Authorities Execute 9 After Trials in Xinjiang Marked by Due Process Violations

November 30, 2009

Authorities have executed nine men, mostly Uyghurs, found guilty by a court in the far-western region of Xinjiang of committing violent crimes during unrest in Xinjiang in July. Amid controls over the free flow of information from Xinjiang, available information indicates the trials were marked by violations of international standards for due process including judges selected for "political reliability" and curbs on defendants' right to independent counsel. Authorities also reported in recent months on steps to detain and initiate prosecution against other people for acts connected to events in July.

Following the forceful police suppression of a demonstration by Uyghurs on July 5 and outbreaks of violence starting that day in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), authorities executed nine men in November found guilty of committing crimes in July, according to a November 10 China Daily report and November 10 Xinhua report (via The men executed, apparently 8 Uyghurs and 1 Han, were among 21 people sentenced on October 12 and October 15 for crimes including intentional homicide, arson, robbery, and property damage. Authorities sentenced 12 of the 21 men to death, but gave a two-year reprieve to 3 of them. The XUAR High People's Court reviewed all the verdicts, 15 of which had been appealed, and upheld the original judgments on October 30. (See a previous CECC analysis, with updated information at the end of the analysis, for information on the October trials and appeal.) The executions followed a mandatory review of the death sentences by the Supreme People's Court (SPC) of China, according to the reports, a practice which the SPC resumed in January 2007 and that is stipulated under Article 199 of the PRC Criminal Procedure Law. (See Section II―Criminal Justice in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2009 Annual Report for more information on death penalty review.) Amid continued controls over the flow of information from the XUAR, available information indicates trials were marked by violations of international standards for due process including judges selected for "political reliability" and restrictions on defendants' right to have independent legal defense during the trials. Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which China has signed and pledged to ratify, provide for fair trials including through an "independent and impartial tribunal." Article 14 of the ICCPR also provides for the right to legal assistance of one's choice. General Comment Number 13 to this article provides, "Lawyers should be able to counsel and to represent their clients in accordance with their established professional standards and judgement without any restrictions, influences, pressures or undue interference from any quarter."

Politicized Courts

Official reports from state media indicate political considerations guided the trials, undermining the possibility that defendants had fair trials based on international standards for due process. Initial reports from official media stressed that XUAR authorities had selected judges for the trials who had "political reliability" and "high proficiency in policy." (See, e.g., an article from the Legal Daily (via Gansu Daily, July 16), and a July 28 Xinhua Xinjiang report.) The judges participated in training on issues including the "relevant national and XUAR policies and laws concerning the 7-5 [July 5] incident," according to the Xinhua report. In addition, personnel throughout the XUAR court system received training on state policy toward events on July 5. The Party Committee of the XUAR High People's Court distributed a "Propaganda Education Manual on the Truth about the Urumqi '7-5' Incident" and "guided and educated" personnel to "strengthen their political awareness and ability to discern political matters," according to an August 3 report from Xinjiang News Net. A Xinjiang Daily report (via Xinjiang News Net, October 14) about a meeting of XUAR officials and legal scholars said the participants described the October 12 trial as the "outcome of proper leadership by the Communist Party, State Council, and XUAR Party Committee and government," also calling into question the likelihood of fair trials free from political influence.

State Places Curbs on Independent Legal Defense

Authorities have provided limited information on legal defense. Official media quoted authorities who stated all defendants tried in October had lawyers, but earlier reports indicated lawyers faced barriers to representing clients free from state interference. Of the 21 people announced on September 25 to go to trial, 4 had retained their own lawyers, and 17 had lawyers appointed by the court, according to a procuratorate official cited in an October 12 People's Daily article. The 7 people tried on October 12 were all represented by lawyers at trial, who were the same ethnicity as the defendants they represented, according to a XUAR Party school professor and Xinjiang Lawyers Association official quoted in the same article. Lawyers for the defendants also presented defense arguments (bianhu yijian) during the court hearing on October 14, according to an October 15 Xinhua article, and during the court hearing for the XUAR High People's Court's review of the cases, according to a Xinhua report (via Sina, October 30).

The statements follow information that authorities in the XUAR and elsewhere had restricted lawyers' defense activities and clients' right to have independent counsel, calling into question the nature of the legal defense during the October trials. In July, Beijing authorities issued orders dictating the terms upon which lawyers could be involved in cases related to events on July 5, and Beijing authorities are reported to have separately warned human rights lawyers against taking the cases. Li Fangping, a human rights lawyer in Beijing, said he was not aware of any Beijing lawyers who were representing defendants in the Xinjiang trials, according to an Agence France-Presse article (via Bangkok Post, October 17). In July, authorities in the XUAR also reportedly ordered lawyers not to take cases on their own initiative and instead let authorities "arrange" all defense efforts. The same month, the Xinjiang Lawyers Association reported that the XUAR Justice Department would arrange criminal defense for suspects who go to trial, selecting Uyghur lawyers and giving them training in criminal law, raising questions about the lawyers' background in criminal law and whether the training would be used to enforce political agendas. See a previous CECC analysis for additional information.

Detentions Continue, "Strike-Hard" Campaign Launched

The October trials came amid news of ongoing steps to detain and initiate prosecution against other people in connection to events in July. Authorities launched a 100-day campaign in September to "capture suspects" in relation to the July events, and as of mid-October, more than 200 people had been detained, according to Chen Qibiao, a legal scholar and director of the legal division of the XUAR Party School, as cited in a Xinjiang Daily report (via Xinhua, October 16). Authorities also launched a "strike hard" campaign in the region starting in November, which will be used in part to continue detaining people in connection to events in July, according to November 2 Xinhua reports (English, Chinese via Sohu). As noted by the CECC in a previous analysis, official Chinese reports on detention numbers connected to events in July have been inconsistent in some cases, and some overseas media reports have suggested that the number of people held in some form of custody exceed detention numbers reported at different times by official Chinese sources. In an October report, Human Rights Watch documented 43 cases of forced disappearance outside the formal protections of Chinese criminal law. Among people officially reported to be detained, Xinhua reported that the Urumqi procuratorate initiated prosecution on November 9 against 20 additional people in 10 cases. (See the Chinese-language report via Net Ease, October 10, and the October 9 English-language report).

UPDATE, December 4, 2009:

In verdicts announced on December 3 and December 4, the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court found 20 more people guilty of crimes committed in early July, including intentional homicide, arson, robbery, carrying out explosions, and intentional injury, according to Xinhua reports from December 3 (English, Chinese) and December 4 (English, Chinese). On December 3, the court sentenced five people to death, two people to life imprisonment, and six to prison terms between 10 and 20 years, all for crimes committed on July 5. All of the people sentenced who were identified in the December 3 Chinese-language report appeared to have Uyghur names. The following day, the court sentenced three people to death, one to life imprisonment, and three to prison terms between 10 and 18 years for crimes committed on July 5, 6, and 7. Based on the names provided in the December 4 Chinese-language Xinhua report, two of the defendants, including one sentenced to death, appeared to be Han and the remainder Uyghur. According to the articles, the trials took place in the languages of the defendants and included interpretation. Lawyers retained by the defendants and court-appointed lawyers presented their legal defense during both trials, which were attended by "hundreds of people," according to the reports, including regional and municipal people's congress representatives, reporters, and family members of defendants and victims at the December 4 trial, according to the December 4 Chinese-language report.

For additional information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV―Xinjiang in the CECC 2009 Annual Report.