BEIJING — Chinese courts have sentenced 11 people for inciting religious extremism and related crimes in the northwestern Muslim region of Xinjiang, just weeks ahead of the anniversary of bloody ethnic rioting that spread through the region four years ago.
The Justice Ministry's official newspaper Legal Daily said Thursday that Aihetaimu Heli was given the harshest sentence of six years in jail for uploading to the Internet materials promoting jihad and ethnic hatred. The sentence on charges of inciting ethnic hatred and ethnic prejudice was handed down Wednesday in the far-western city of Aksu, the paper said.
In the city of Kashgar, an additional eight people were sentenced to between two to five years for creating a public nuisance after breaking into homes and destroying 17 television sets in what the paper called a religious frenzy.
Two others were fined and given less serious administrative punishments of from five to 15 days for posting extremist material to a blog and spreading rumors of a suicide bombing on the popular QQ Internet messaging service.
Calls to the courts either rang unanswered or were answered by people who said no one was available to comment.
All of the defendants identified by name appeared to be from Xinjiang's native Turkic Muslim Uighur ethnic group, who are culturally, linguistically, and religiously distinct from China's majority Han.
Xinjiang sees periodic outbreaks of anti-government and anti-Chinese violence, some of it inspired by resentment over economic marginalization by Han migrants who have flooded into the region in recent decades, along with restrictions on Uighur social and cultural life.
Authorities have consistently responded with overwhelming force and repression, and the period leading up to the anniversary of the July 2009 riots in the regional capital Urumqi is always one of heightened tension and increased security.
Almost 200 people were killed in the violence that began with Uighur attacks on Han residents, followed by revenge attacks by Han armed with knives and iron rods.
China said much of the violence was coordinated through text messages and blog postings and in its wake redoubled efforts to monitor online material considered subversive or threatening, including extremist and jihadist material produced abroad.