Number of Trials for State Security Crimes in Xinjiang Increases in 2009

February 3, 2010

The number of trials involving crimes of endangering state security increased in 2009 in the far western region of Xinjiang. Such crimes can carry harsh criminal sentences and have been used across China to punish peaceful activism and dissent. The figures from Xinjiang come from a year marked by unrest in the region, but none of the trials that took place in October and December 2009 that were connected to the suppressed demonstration and rioting in July has involved crimes of endangering state security. In recent months, Xinjiang authorities have reported taking steps to increase security in the region, targeting acts including those alleged to be state security crimes.

Courts in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) completed trials for 437 cases involving crimes of endangering state security (ESS) in 2009, representing a sharp increase in such cases from the previous year, based on information from XUAR media and as reported in a previous Congressional-Executive Commission on China analysis. Rozi Ismail, head of the XUAR High People's Court, provided the figure in his January 14 work report at the XUAR People's Congress and reported that 255 people had been sentenced to prison terms of 10 years or more for ESS crimes, according to a January 15 Chinese-language Xinhua article. 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, 4). Rozi Ismail also reported that many of the ESS crimes in the XUAR were terrorism related, according to a January 15 English-language Xinhua report. As noted in the CECC 2009 Annual Report (page 246), XUAR authorities reported in 2009 on detecting terrorist cells and preventing terrorist attacks in the region, but provided limited details on the events.

The 2009 ESS figures from the XUAR come from a year marked by unrest in the region and represent an increase of 169 cases over the previous year, though none of the ESS figures appears to come from trials connected to the suppressed demonstration and rioting in July (see discussion below). As reported in a previous CECC analysis, in 2008, courts in the XUAR completed trials in a total of 268 ESS cases. Based on available data on ESS crimes nationwide and limited information on previous ESS cases in the XUAR, the number in 2008 appeared to represent an increase over previous years.

The January 15 Chinese-language Xinhua article noted that XUAR courts had handled three batches of cases related to the July 2009 unrest, but did not connect the trials to the 2009 ESS figures. A July 18 article from the Legal Daily, citing legal experts from the XUAR, had reported that suspects' alleged crimes related to events in July fell into five categories, including endangering state security, and included over 20 suspected crimes, including separatism and armed rebellion. Based on information reported by Chinese media, however, none of the trials that took place in October and December 2009 that were connected to the suppressed demonstration and rioting in July has involved ESS crimes. See recent CECC analyses (1, 2, 3) for additional information on the trials. The XUAR public security department said on January 18 that public security offices in the XUAR would increase the strength of their work in handling cases connected to events in July and in capturing criminals still at large, according to a January 19 Xinhua report.

In recent months, XUAR authorities have reported taking steps to increase security in the region, targeting acts including ESS crimes. The XUAR government allotted 2.89 billion yuan (US$423 million) for public security spending in its 2010 budget proposal, an increase of 87.9 percent over the previous year, according to information in a January 13 China Daily article, January 14 Tianshan Net report, and January 17 China Xinjiang report (noting that the XUAR People's Congress passed the 2010 budget). In Urumqi, authorities said they would increase the number of 24-hour surveillance cameras in the city to 60,000 by the end of 2010, according to a January 15 China News Net report. As of the end of November 2009, the city had installed 46,953 cameras in the city, according to the report. On December 29, the XUAR People's Congress Standing Committee made revisions to the region's Regulation for the Comprehensive Management of Social Order, effective February 1, that place prominence on "striking hard" against ESS crimes, an emphasis missing from the earlier version of the regulation. (For mention of ESS crimes in the recently revised regulation, see Articles 5, 11, 16, 25, 31, and 42.) In addition, Rozi Ismail announced in his work report that courts in the XUAR "have taken safeguarding state security and social stability as their most important and imminent task," with "striking hard against crimes of endangering state security and violent terrorism as the utmost political task," according to a paraphrasing of his remarks in the January 15 Chinese-language Xinhua article. XUAR government chairperson Nur Bekri reiterated government pledges to uphold stability in the region in his 2010 work report at the regional people's congress, according to a copy of his report posted January 18 on Tianshan Net. At a December 18 national meeting on security in China, Yang Huanning, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Public Security, called for increased steps to maintain stability in the XUAR and in Tibet, according to a copy of the remarks published in the Legal Daily (via Qinghai Peace Net, December 28). Zhou Yongkang, Standing Committee member of the Communist Party Central Committee Politburo, described at a meeting on January 26 plans for a central work forum on the XUAR to address the region's development and stability, according to a Xinhua report (via Tianshan Net, January 28). Combating "'Xinjiang independence' separatist forces" will be the most important issue at the central work forum, according to a January 24 report from Ta Kung Pao.

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