China jails 45 on terror-related charges in Xinjiang region

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BEIJING (AP) — Chinese courts in the restive, western region of Xinjiang have jailed 45 people on terrorism-related charges, including 18 convicted of organizing illegal border crossings, state-run media reported Thursday.

Among them were at least eight people — most likely minority Uighur Muslims — who were sentenced to prison terms on charges of trying to leave China unlawfully, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Beijing has recently come under international criticism after it succeeded in having sent back to China about 100 Uighurs who had sought refuge in Thailand. The men were filmed being hooded, cuffed and escorted to China under tight police watch.

Authorities have said the Uighurs seeking to leave China are influenced by religious extremism and planning to join jihad, or holy war. Advocates for Uighurs say they are fleeing China to escape repression.

The eight who were sentenced included five people who were given eight to 10 years by a court in Kashgar, after being captured by Tajikistan police near the border with Afghanistan, Xinhua said. The news agency said they had met frequently to read about religious extremism and plotted to move abroad to join jihad.

In Hotan, a court jailed three men for 10 to 15 years after they were intercepted by Chinese police at the Urumqi airport on their way to Turkey on falsified Turkish passports, Xinhua said.

In two other cases handled by a Karamay court, 18 people — appearing to be from the majority Han ethnic group — were convicted of organizing illegal border crossings, Xinhua said.

In one case, two people — Wei Hai and Chen Qianggui — were imprisoned for life after they and 11 others helped 305 people to illegally cross into Vietnam from December 2013 and June 2014, for a fee of up to $1,000 per person, Xinhua said.

The Karamay court convicted five more "snakeheads" — a term for those who smuggle migrants — in a separate case, Xinhua said. The men were caught when they were hauling 21 illegal immigrants to Vietnam in April 2014, Xinhua said.

The report did not provide details on the other 19 people who were convicted and jailed.

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