In the latest sign that Beijing is extremely serious about its year-long crackdown on terrorism, Xinhua reported Monday that 13 people were executed on charges of “organizing, leading, and participating in terrorist organizations” in Xinjiang. The 13 had been involved in seven different incidents, including a June 2013 terrorist attack in Piqan County that left 24 police officers and civilians dead and 23 more injured.
Also on Monday, Xinhua reported that three people had been sentenced to death for the October 2013 attack in Tiananmen Square. The three were given the death sentence for their role in “organizing and leading a terrorist organization and threatening public security through the use of dangerous methods.” Two other suspects were given a life sentence and 20 years in prison respectively for “joining a terrorist organization and threatening public security through the use of dangerous methods.” The final three suspects were sentenced to five to ten years for joining a terrorist group. According to evidence presented during the trial, the men formed a terrorist cell in 2011, and began planning for the Beijing attack in December of 2012.
In both cases, Xinhua tried to emphasize not only the punishments for the accused terrorists, but the justness of the court proceedings. Both articles specified that court proceedings had been conducted using the “ethnic language” of the accused (presumably Uyghur, although Xinhua did not explicitly mention the men’s ethnicity). The article noting the executions referenced the process of appeals and “other legal rights” for the accused. Xinhua quoted a representative of Xinjiang’s highest court as saying that the executions “defended the sanctity of the law, protected justice, and safeguarded social harmony and stability.”Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
China may be particularly stressing the fairness of these legal proceedings as there have been concerns about the legality of China’s crackdown on terrorism. Earlier this year, a mass sentencing of 55 accused criminals was held in a sports stadium, sparking concerns that the accused had been denied due process in favor of a showy exhibition of official resolve. Celia Hatton of BBC described the mass sentencing as the same sort of “political theater” used during the Cultural Revolution. In addition, human rights organization are worried that the crackdown on terrorism is being accompanied by a general war on Islam, including religious practices such as the wearing of head scarves by women.
The Xinhua articles seem aware of the potential for a backlash, and framed the executions and sentencings as a victory for the justice system. Reforming China’s judicial system to accord with the “rule of law” is one of Xi Jinping’s priorities; thus Beijing seems to have backed away from grand spectacle to emphasize the legal validity of the convictions. Still, grand demonstrations of China’s victories against terrorism are still seen as valuable. As Reuters notes, the trial for the Tiananmen attackers was public, and reportedly attended by 400 people.