In a rare move, China has reduced jail terms for 11 people convicted of harming national security in the Xinjiang region, saying the prisoners “demonstrated repentance and remorse.”

The group included individuals who were former heads of “terrorist and separatist groups”, according to Xinhua. Some were convicted over a 2009 violent incident in Urumqi which left almost 200 dead and over 1,700 others injured.

Armed police in Xinjiang. Photo: Wikicommons.

Seven of the prisoners had their sentences reduced from life to fixed jail terms, and four had their sentences reduced by six months. One of them was released after the reduction.

Memettohut Memetroz, who founded the East Turkestan Islamic Party and set up training camps in Afghanistan told Xinhua that he has since “understood the real Islam thanks to religious leaders who come to give lectures at the prison.”

“When I found out that my sentence was being reduced, I was so excited my heart started racing. I couldn’t stop crying and I couldn’t sleep for a few nights,” Xinhua quoted Memetroz as saying.

The Xinjiang government adopted a strategy to eradicate extremism by educating prisoners in law and inviting religious leaders to talk about “the right Islam,” Xinhua said.

Uyghur protest in Washington DC, USA. Photo: Wikicommons

Speaking with the BBC, Dilshat Reshit, a spokesperson for the World Uyghur Congress, called it a “political farce”. The organisation is made up of exiled Uyghurs who aim to represent the interests of the Uyghur people inside and outside of Xinjiang,

“We need to be wary of China using this so-called reduction of sentences to mislead international society and to increase oppression in Xinjiang under the name of anti-terrorism,” he said.

In recent years, tensions in Xinjiang have been rising, and violent events have increased, killing hundreds. China has always denied that it is oppressing the region.

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Chantal Yuen

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.