China jails 20 on jihad & separatism charges in restive Xinjiang

Chinese courts have sentenced 20 people to up to life in jail on charges of separatism and plotting to carry out jihad in the restive far western region of Xinjiang, the government said.

The courts in Kashgar and Bayingol said the 20 – all ethnic Uighurs judging by their names – had had their ‘thoughts poisoned by religious extremism’, and used cell phones and DVDs ‘to spread Muslim religious propaganda’, the Xinjiang government said on its official news website (www.ts.cn).

Some of them bought weapons to kill policemen as part of their jihad and spread propaganda related to the banned East Turkestan Islamic Movement, the report said, a group whichChinasays wages a violent campaign for a separate state.

Many Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people native to Xinjiang, chafe at Chinese controls on their religion, language and culture.

Chinahas blamed violence in energy-rich Xinjiang – strategically located on the borders ofAfghanistan,Pakistan,Indiaand Central Asia – on Islamic separatists who want to establish an independentEast Turkestan.

Some Chinese officials have also blamed attacks on Muslim militants trained inPakistan. But many rights groups sayChinaoverstates the threat to justify its tight grip on the region.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said the 20 were actually guilty of no more than listening to the US-funded Radio Free Asia and using the internet to discuss the importance of religious and cultural freedom.