Twenty ethnic Uighurs in China's far western region of Xinjiang have been given sentences of up to life in prison following their convictions on charges including terrorism and separatism, Chinese state media reported.
The government-run news portal Tianshan Net reported that a Kashgar court on Tuesday found 19 Uighurs in four groups guilty of spreading multimedia materials promoting terrorism. It said one of the groups plotted to assassinate local law officers, and that another tested bombs.
Tianshan said another Xinjiang court sentenced one Uighur man to 10 years in prison for spreading online terrorism.
Dilxat Raxit, of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, said the punishments were draconian and used to suppress the ethnic Muslim Uighurs. Dilxat said the men did innocuous things like listen to Radio Free Asia and forward video clips downloaded from YouTube, a video-sharing site that cannot be directly accessed from China but can be reached through proxy servers. Dilxat said their activities were aimed at spreading religious knowledge and preserving their ethnic culture and lifestyle.
"China has completely deprived the Uighurs of their rights to use the Internet to express different opinions and to obtain information," Dilxat said in a statement.
Tensions have long brewed between Xinjiang's Turkish Muslim Uighurs and Chinese migrants. The Uighurs complain that Chinese are displacing them in what they consider their homeland, and they chafe at controls on religion.
But Beijing has been wary of terrorist activities in Xinjiang. Tianshan said the men convicted in the Kashgar court were spreading materials by the Eastern Turkistan Islamic movement and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, both of which are considered terrorist organizations by Chinese authorities. It also said the men were illegally engaged in Muslim preaching.
Tianshan said some of the defendants had smashed vehicles, robbed and beat people and raised money for illegal immigration.