Two officials in the Chinese region of Xinjiang have been sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve on charges including separatism, as Beijing's crackdown on Muslim minorities continues and the country moves forward with its campaign against "two-faced officials."
Sattar Sawut, a former education official and Shirzat Bawudun, a former legal official, are the latest of many Xinjiang bureaucrats, almost all members of the Muslim-Turkic Uyghur minority group, to be sentenced on national security charges in what China calls a campaign against "two-faced officials” who are seeking to undermine Chinese rule from within the system.
Such sentences are usually commuted to life in prison after two years with good behavior. Both men pleaded guilty and neither would file an appeal, said Wang Langtao, vice president of Xinjiang’s regional higher people’s court.
National security cases are heard behind closed doors and it wasn’t exactly clear when the men had been tried or when their sentences had been handed down. Sattar Sawut was detained in 2018. It was not clear how long Shirzat Bawudun had been held.
The court on Tuesday said Sattar Sawut, the former head of the regional education department, "incorporated ethnic separatism, violence, terrorism and religious extremism content into minority-language textbooks," as The Associated Press (AP) reported.
"Sattar Sawut took advantage of compiling and publishing ethnic language textbooks for primary and secondary schools to split the country, starting in 2002. He instructed others to pick several people with separatist thoughts to join the textbook compilation team, the court found," the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing comments by Wang at a news conference.
Wang said Shirzat Bawudun, the former head of the Xinjiang regional justice department, was convicted of "splitting the country" for having colluded with the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and having "offered help to separatists and religious extremists, and collaborated with overseas separatist forces."
The ETIM is listed as a terrorist group by the United Nations, although many experts question whether it exists in operational form.
Shirzat Bawudun met with ETIM representatives and encouraged others to join the group, Wang said. He also "carried out illegal religious activities at his daughter’s wedding" and accepted bribes totaling RMB 11.12 million ($1.7 million), Wang said.
China launched a sweeping security campaign in Xinjiang, detaining more than 1 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and members of other minority Muslim groups in prison-like reeducation centers where they are told to denounce Islam and traditional culture, learn Mandarin Chinese and swear fealty to the ruling Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping. That crackdown has been accompanied by the arrests of leading Uyghur academics and other public figures, mostly on charges of separatism.
China denies any abuses, saying the centers are aimed at teaching job skills and deradicalizing those influenced by anti-Chinese teachings. It says its policies have prevented any new terrorist attacks from taking place for more than four years.
Beijing has also vociferously attacked claims of forced labor in factories and cotton fields and encouraged an unofficial public boycott of foreign companies that have spoken out on the matter. It calls United States sanctions against officials associated with persecution in Xinjiang a form of political persecution that will have no effect on government policy.
The United Nations held "serious negotiations" with China for unfettered access to the Xinjiang region to verify reports that Muslim Uyghurs are being persecuted, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a CBC interview broadcast last week. The U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said last month that reports of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, sexual violence and forced labor in Xinjiang necessitated a thorough and independent assessment. In February, Bachelet said talks to organize a visit had begun but no agreement has yet been reached.
Bachelet's visit "is being negotiated at the present moment between the office of the High Commissioner and the Chinese authorities," Guterres said in an interview aired on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp's Rosemary Barton Live show.
"And I hope that they will reach an agreement soon and that the human rights commissioner will be able to visit China without restrictions or limitations," he added, according to remarks carried by Reuters.
The court said textbooks approved by Sattar Sawut were used for 13 years, bringing "grave consequences." It said the 2003 and 2009 editions of the textbooks contained 84 passages preaching ethnic separatism, violence, terrorism and religious extremism and that several people were inspired by the books to participate in a bloody anti-government riot in the regional capital Urumqi in 2009. Others, the court said, became inspired to become "key members of a separatist group headed by former college teacher Ilham Tohti," a Uyghur economist who has been serving a life sentence on a separatism charge since 2014. Sattar Sawut also abused his official position to accept bribes worth RMB 15.05 million ($2.3 million), the court said.
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