The sentencing of two high-level Uyghur officials to death by Chinese authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has stunned critics who questioned the legality of the decision given the lack of evidence against them.
Shirzat Bawudun, former director of the justice in the XUAR High Court and deputy secretary of the XUAR Political and Legal Committee, and Sattar Sawut, former director of education of the XUAR, have been given two-year suspended death sentences for “separatism” and “terrorism”.
The court’s sentence to the two also included permanent deprivation of political rights and confiscation of all personal property.
Though the High Court announced the verdicts on April 6, they released no additional information about when and where the trials took place, how they proceeded, and when the verdicts were actually decided.
Sophie Richardson, China director at New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), told RFA’s Uyghur Service that there is no such thing as a fair trial in the XUAR and called on the government to release its evidence against the two officials.
“Let me be very clear: Human Rights Watch is utterly and totally opposed to the use of the death penalty in many circumstances, because it is fundamentally cruel and unusual,” she said.
“We also know very well that most people in Xinjiang do not get anything even remotely resembling a fair trial.”
In particular, she pointed out the absurdity of how harsh Sawut’s punishment was, given that he was accused of including “extremist” content in children’s primary school books that had previously been approved by censors. He had overseen publication of textbooks, all government approved.
“The idea that somebody should get a life sentence for a textbook that was published 13 years ago is crazy—there’s no other word to describe it,” she said.
“And I think it’s imperative that the Chinese government make all of the evidence available. I’d like to know whether these two men had lawyers of their own choice, whether they had any ability to see the evidence that was presented against them, or really contest the charges.”
According to the limited information shared by the High Court, Bawudun was accused of “long-term planning to split the country,” “participating in the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and betraying the interests of the people and the country,” and “providing illegal intelligence to people outside the borders [of China].”
Sawut was also described as being “two-faced”—a term applied by the government to Uyghur cadres who pay lip service to Communist Party rule in the XUAR, but secretly chafe against state policies repressing members of their ethnic group—and having hidden in key a position for a long time.
Teng Biao, a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer in the U.S., told RFA that the “crime” of “splittism” is a tool China has long used to crack down on opposition. In this case, however, the tool is being deployed against cadres within the very system of government itself.
“The Chinese government often uses the charges of “splitting the country” or “subverting state power” or “inciting division” or “inciting subversion of the country” to combat dissidents, and increasingly as a way of achieving its political goals,” he said. (Source: RFA)