On Monday, a Chinese court sentenced twelve people to death and fifteen others to a suspended death sentence. The persons before the court were said to have been involved in attacks on a police station and government offices in Xinjiang The charges were listed as homicide, organizing terror, kidnapping, and harming public safety. The particular attack in July, which led the Chinese court to sentence the twelve to death, had a death count almost reaching 100 people. “It was said that 59 assailants were shot dead by police, 37 passers-by died and that 215 people were arrested.”
Over the past few months, there has been a widespread of similar attacks. For example, in March twenty-nine people were killed in an attack in a train station; in May, thirty-nine people were killed during an attack on a market in the capital of Xinjiang, and an additional thirty-one were killed during another terrorist attack in the same month; in June, assailants drove a car full of explosives into a police station in Urumqi and thirteen were shot dead by the police, a total of thirty-five were reported dead.
The Chinese government is pointing fingers at Islamic militants, or separatists, “who they say are determined on forming an independent state called East Turkestan.” On the other-hand, “Rights groups accuse China’s government of cultural and religious repression which they say fuels unrest in the region bordering Central Asia.”
The violence leading to so many deaths is said to be due to the clash between Muslim Uighur people and ethnic majority Han Chinese. There seems to be some suspicion toward the Chinese government, as the Uighur argue “Beijing’s security forces used submachine guns and sniper rifles, leading to “huge casualties”. The harsh punishments are being argued as a “strike hard” campaign against violence in Xinjiang by the Chinese government. Unfortunately the Chinese government is making it rather difficult for journalists to verify many details on these incidents, as they are imposing harsh restrictions upon journalism in Xinjiang. Therefore, it seems inconclusive as to who is responsible for which deaths, and exactly how many deaths occurred. It also seems that the government may not want the world to know exactly what is going on behind Chinese borders.
Are the Chinese violating international law by imposing such harsh penalties, or are these sentences warranted? Are harsh penalties like the death penalty effective? Does the international community have any right to investigate when human rights groups are suspicious of a government? Do you think journalists should have international protection regarding their rights to report on stories in areas of conflict, or should a domestic government control what reporters can and cannot express in matters of domestic conflicts?