BEIJING—A Chinese court sentenced a Uighur-Canadian to life in prison on Thursday for taking part in “terrorist activities and plotting to split the country”, the second ethnic Uighur activist jailed in China this week.
The Intermediate People's Court in Urumqi, capital of the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang, convicted Huseyin Celil, 37, of separatism and terrorism charges, the Chinese communist party mouthpiece, Xinhua news agency said.
China accuses Uighur militants of using violence in their struggle to set up an independent East Turkestan state in predominantly Muslim Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
Described by Xinhua as a prominent member of East Turkestan “terrorist organisations”, Celil was also deprived of his political rights for life.
Celil, also known as Husein Dzhelil, fled China in the mid-1990s and sought asylum through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Turkey, according to human rights watchdog Amnesty International.
He was recognised as a refugee and resettled in Canada where he obtained Canadian citizenship in November 2005, Amnesty said. But China considers him a Chinese citizen.
Celil was detained in Uzbekistan in March 2006 when he was visiting relatives and repatriated to China last June.
Xinhua cited court documents as saying he had been active in the East Turkestan Liberation Organisation in Kyrgyzstan and had recruited several people there to be sent to training camps on the Pamirs plateau in Pakistan.
Canadian Diplomats not allowed in court
A spokesman for the Canadian embassy in Beijing said Canadian diplomats had not been allowed into the courtroom but had been outside when the verdict was announced.
“The Canadian government is reviewing the verdict and will have a reaction in due course. We continue to be in very close contact with the family and offering them what assistance we can at this time,” the spokesman said.
It was not known if Celil would appeal, Xinhua said.
Human Rights Condemnation
Human rights groups say China has intensified a crackdown on Uighurs in recent years, characterised by arbitrary arrests and closed-door trials.
Xinjiang is home to 8 million Uighurs, a Turkic, largely Islamic people who share linguistic and cultural bonds with their Central Asian neighbours. Many resent the growing Han Chinese presence in oil-rich Xinjiang, as well as government controls on religion and culture.
On Tuesday, a son of exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer was jailed for nine years on charges of instigating and engaging in secessionist activities. Another son was jailed for seven years in November for tax evasion.
In February, China executed Ismail Semed, a founding member of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement outlawed by Beijing, for attempting to “split the motherland”, drawing condemnation from a human rights group which said the evidence was insufficient.
In January, Chinese police killed 18 people, described by the government as “terrorists”, in a gunbattle which left one officer dead and another wounded.
Another 17 were arrested after police raided and destroyed a training camp in Xinjiang that China said was run by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.