Courts in the restive western region of Xinjiang have sentenced 20 ethnic Uygurs to jail for up to 15 years for terrorism and separatist crimes, as local authorities continue stepped-up efforts to maintain stability ahead of a key party congress this autumn.
Three courts in Kashgar , Akesu and the regional capital Urumqi recently handed down the sentences after finding the 20 Uygurs guilty of various crimes.
Four of the crimes were related to 'organising terrorist attacks' and one was linked to subversion, the People's Daily reported online yesterday.
The report said there was a vast amount of evidence suggesting that the accused carried out considerable preparatory work for the attacks and had set up formal terrorist groups.
'They bought, produced and copied mobile transmitters, discs and publications that promoted separatism, religious extremism and violent terror, and proactively spread them around,' the report said.
'Some members of the terrorist organisation made explosives and carried out test explosions.'
The report said the arrests were made as the ethnic minorities were plotting an attack.
'Even though these organisations did not carry out the terrorist attacks, they were set up with the aim of separating the region from the nation through the use of violence,' the report quoted Xu Chun , a deputy director of the criminal lawsuit committee of the Xinjiang Lawyers' Association, as saying.
It quoted Wang Kunquan , another deputy director of the committee, as saying that the authorities would take strong measures 'to combat any kind of terrorist activities'.
Eight of the convicts, who were jailed for three to 15 years, were found to have spread the concept of jihad, or holy war, through 'illegal' religious activities and publications.
The report said they recruited members for terrorist organisations in Akesu.
Four Uygurs in the city were found to have produced explosives and urged other Uygurs 'to resist the Han people who are anti-Muslim'. They were also jailed for three to 15 years.
Three others were jailed for 10 to 15 years for spreading notions in Kashgar of terror attacks. Another Uygur convict received 13 years for subversion.
In Urumqi, similar charges were put against four other people, who were sentenced to between 18 months and 12 years in prison.
Dilxadi Rexiti, spokesman for the exiled World Uygur Congress, said Beijing had politicised the case and used 'terrorism' as an excuse to punish Uygurs who do not agree with the system, Reuters reported.
Xinjiang authorities have been stepping up security since June, when they said six Uygurs tried to hijack a plane shortly after it took off from Hotan to Urumqi. Local authorities have also banned Muslim officials and students from fasting during Ramadan, prompting the World Uygur Congress to warn of fresh eruptions of violence.
Xinjiang party chief Zhang Chunxian last month called on the region's armed forces to be on high alert for the 'Three Forces' of separatism, religious extremists and terrorism.
Local authorities on Wednesday approved a new set of measures for handling emergency incidents in the region.
Local police can take 'necessary mandatory measures' in places where mass riots and violent attacks have occurred.
And officials who delay reporting of emergency incidents may be held criminally liable.