In a spectacle designed to show their resolve against “terrorism,” Chinese authorities held a public sentencing in a football stadium in the northwestern Xinjiang region of 55 people convicted of violent crimes.
More than 7,000 people watched from the stands in Yili prefecture during sentencing, and videos were distributed by police to Chinese media. It was an unusually “public” display in a country where court proceedings are normally “closed” to the public.
The sentencing follows the “car bombing” in the northwestern city of Urumqi in which 43 people died, the deadliest “attack” in China in nearly five years.
From the names of the “defendants” provided by authorities, they appeared to be ethnic Uighurs. Uighurs are a mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking people from northwestern China.
Li Minghui, the deputy secretary of the local Communist Party, was quoted by the New China News Agency predicting that religious extremists and separatists would soon become “as unpopular as rats crossing the street.’’
The defendants were convicted of crimes that included “homicide, membership in terrorist organizations, harboring criminals and secession,” which in China refers to ethnic minorities coveting their own state.
Details of the crimes were released in only one case. The murder in April 2013 of a family of four, including a 3-year-old child, who were killed with “hatchets and knives” in their rented apartment. The family had recently moved from central China, and the “implication” was that they were killed because they were ethnic “Han,” the Chinese majority.
The three men convicted of the murder were given “death” sentences, according to state media.
China is on “high alert” after a cluster of bombings and stabbings of increasing sophistication and lethality. In the last attack, two SUV’s crashed through a “barricade” into a crowded pedestrian market while their occupants “hurled” bombs through the car windows.
Last month, passengers at the Urumqi train station were attacked with “knives and bombs” on the day that President Xi Jinping was visiting the region.
Jacob Zenn, an analyst with the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, said “terrorism might come to dominate” Xi’s leadership in much the same way it did for President George W. Bush.
“Terrorism might come to mark the first five years of Xi Jinping’s term, and it’s not an easy battle to win because you are judged,” Zenn said. “Every attack is a loss for you. It’s going to be hard to be foolproof on this.’’
More than 200 people have been arrested in Xinjiang in recent weeks. Local authorities said they had “busted” a bomb-making gang from Hotan in the Xinjiang region and “confiscated” 1.8 tons of explosives.
Chinese authorities said the “plotters” had been inspired and instructed by “Islamic” militant videos.