Number of State Security Cases Tried in Xinjiang Decreases in 2010; Number of Longer Prison Sentences Increases

February 3, 2011

The number of cases tried in connection to crimes of endangering state security (ESS) in the far western region of Xinjiang decreased in 2010 compared to 2009, but remained higher than in years before 2009. Such crimes can carry long prison sentences or the death penalty and have been used across China to punish peaceful activism and dissent. Authorities did not specify whether the ESS figures in 2010 included trials connected to demonstrations and riots that took place in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi in 2009. Reports on the total number of criminal cases (not just endangering state security crimes) in the region indicate that Xinjiang courts completed trials in fewer cases in 2010 than in 2009 but sentenced a higher number of people to punishments ranging from five years to life imprisonment and the death penalty.

Number of Endangering State Security Crimes Declines But Remains High

Courts in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) completed trials for 376 cases involving crimes of endangering state security (ESS) in 2010, representing a decrease in such cases from the previous year but a higher number than in years before 2009, based on information from XUAR media and as reported in a previous Congressional-Executive Commission on China analysis (1, 2). Rozi Ismail, head of the XUAR High People's Court, reported the 2010 figures on January 16, 2011, according to an article that day from People's Daily. As noted in a past CECC analysis, crimes of ESS (also translated as "endangering national security") are defined in articles 102-113 of the PRC Criminal Law to include acts such as splitting the state, subversion, espionage, and armed rebellion. Many of the ESS crimes carry the possibility of life imprisonment and capital punishment. In a March 10, 2006, report (searchable by date on the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Web site) based on visits to China, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment noted that the "vague definition of [ESS crimes] leaves their application open to abuse particularly of the rights to freedom of religion, speech, and assembly," and recommended the abolition of such "political crimes." For more information on cases of people charged with ESS crimes, see the CECC Political Prisoner Database and several recent CECC analyses (1, 2, 3).

The 2010 figure represents a decrease of 61 cases compared to the previous year. The 2009 figure of 437 cases was a sharp increase over the 268 ESS cases tried in the region in 2008. Based on available data on ESS crimes nationwide and limited information on previous ESS cases in the XUAR, the 2008 figure of 268 cases, in turn, appeared to represent an increase over previous years. Rozi Ismail reported in 2007 that since 2003, the XUAR court system had accepted an average of roughly 150 ESS cases per year, according to an August 14, 2007, article from the Xinhua Xinjiang Web site. The figure refers to cases accepted (shouli) rather than trials completed (shenjie), but suggests the increase in ESS trials since 2008. See also The Dui Hua Foundation's Winter 2009 Dialogue Newsletter for additional information on the estimated number of ESS cases in the XUAR starting from the late 1990s. XUAR authorities heightened security campaigns in the region in 2008 in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games.

The sources of the high number of cases in 2009 and 2010 are unclear. Rozi Ismail reported that the 2010 figure included cases connected to "violent terrorist crimes," including crimes that took place in 2008, but he did not specify how many of the 376 cases were connected to these incidents. In addition, Rozi Ismail did not directly link the ESS cases from 2010 to trials connected to demonstrations and riots that took place in the region in July 2009. At the same time, in a January 14 speech, he made reference to such July 2009-related cases that have already been tried and he called for making the cases the focal point of future criminal law work, as part of steps to "strike hard" against crimes including ESS offenses, according to the People's Daily article. (See also a January 14, 2011, Xinjiang Legal Daily article for a similar reference to such cases tried in the past year and a January 15, 2010, Xinhua article, via Net Ease, for an earlier reference to continuing to make July 5, 2009, cases the focus of "striking hard" against ESS and other crimes.)

To date, official reports have not clearly specified how many cases connected to the July 2009 events involve ESS crimes. Of the 26 cases, involving 76 people, reported by Chinese media in late 2009 and early 2010, none was reported to involve ESS crimes. Earlier, a July 18, 2009, article from the Legal Daily, citing sources from the XUAR, reported that suspects' alleged crimes related to events in July 2009 fell into five categories, including ESS, and included crimes such as separatism and armed rebellion. Unofficial sources since have reported on trials connected to the July 2009 events that involve ESS charges, including those of Gulmira Imin, Gheyret Niyaz, Nijat Azat, Dilshat Perhat, and Nureli. (Charges against Memetjan Abdulla, sentenced to life in prison in connection to the July events, are not known, but details of the case suggest he also may have faced ESS charges.)

Total Number of Criminal Cases Tried in Xinjiang Decreases, Number of Prison Sentences of Five Years and Above Increases

Recent reports also provide information on the total number of criminal cases (not just ESS cases) tried in the XUAR and the number of people sentenced to prison terms of five years or higher. The information in these reports indicates a decrease in the number of criminal cases completed and an increase in the number of people given sentences of five years and higher. According to the January 14 Xinjiang Legal Daily article, XUAR courts at all levels completed (shenjie) criminal trials in 19,785 cases in 2010. The figures do not specify the number of people involved in the cases. Based on information in the article, XUAR courts accepted (shouli) a total of approximately 20,430 cases. According to Rozi Ismail's remarks in the People's Daily article, XUAR courts sentenced 3,144 people in 2010 to prison terms ranging from five years to life imprisonment and the death penalty. In contrast, in 2009, 2,993 people received prison terms in the same range. During that year, all levels of XUAR courts accepted a total of 21,463 cases and completed trials in 20,770, according to a January 15, 2010, China Daily report.

For more information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV—Xinjiang in the CECC 2010 Annual Report.