BEIJING (Reuters) - China sentenced 32 people in its western Xinjiang region to prison terms for downloading or sending “violent terror” videos, state media said, as authorities crackdown on people they say are Islamists and separatists behind recent attacks.
Three people were given life sentences on Thursday and 29 people were sentenced to between four and 15 years in prison, said the region’s official government news website Tianshan.
“The cases generally involved using mobile phones and the Internet to store, download, and transmit religious extremist violent terror video and audio files to organize, lead or participate in terrorist organizations,” Tianshan said.
China has taken down more than 40 groups it calls “violent terror gangs” and arrested more than 400 people in Xinjiang since authorities began a one-year crackdown on May 23, state media said on Monday.
Thursday’s sentences are the latest effort by China to rein in groups it says are responsible for a series of bloody attacks that Beijing blames on Islamists and separatists from the Xinjiang region, home to a large Muslim Uighur minority.
Those sentenced all appeared to be Uighur based on their names in case details in the Tianshan report. The 11 cases were from cities around Xinjiang, including the capital Urumqi, and also Aksu, Turpan and Hotan
Exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists say the government’s repressive policies in Xinjiang, including controls on Islam, have provoked unrest, a claim Beijing denies.
Xinjiang, resource-rich and strategically located on the borders of central Asia, is crucial to meeting China’s growing energy needs. Analysts say that most of the proceeds have gone to the Han Chinese, stoking resentment among Uighurs.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled group the World Uyghur Congress, said in an email on the sentences that China was afraid Uighurs would use the Internet to break authorities’ monopoly on information.
“China’s accusations are a political excuse to suppress the rights of Uighurs to use the Internet,” he said.
The launch of the May campaign targeting what China calls “violent terrorist activities”, followed a suicide bombing that month that killed 39 people at a market in Urumqi.
In March, 29 people were stabbed to death at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming. Around 200 people have died in unrest in Xinjiang in the past year or so, the government says, including 13 people shot dead by police in an attack on a police station in June.
Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Michael Perry