The World Uyghur Congress Condemns China’s Use of the Death Penalty & Opaque Legal Process
The World Uyghur Congress condemns the recent execution of three Uyghurs from East Turkestan who were allegedly associated with four men and one woman involved in an attack outside a train station in Kunming one year ago. As is typically the case, very little information has been released by the state about the nature of their relationship, or if there are legitimate grounds for punishment. Although justice must be done for those who choose violence as a means of recourse to state repression, the WUC is consistent in its opposition to the use of the death penalty and calls for its abolition.
On March 1, 2014, four men and one woman killed 31 and injured another 141 in an attack outside a train station in Kunming, Yunnan Province. On Tuesday, March 24, three men, Iskandar Ehet, Turgun Tohtunyaz and Hasayn Muhammad, were put to death after China’s Supreme Court upheld their convictions for the crimes of murder and “organizing and leading a terrorist organization”.
Police reported that although the three men were not directly involved in the attack, they had been involved in training others for “terror activities”. No further information concerning the relationship between these men and the attackers was ever provided and their own specific activities were never disclosed, apart from vaguely worded court statements alleging some participation.
As has been seen over the past year, it has become increasingly common for the Chinese government to sentence Uyghurs without the proper observance of legal procedures. Death sentences doled out in 2014 have shown that the majority, if not all, of these decisions are implemented troublingly quickly by Chinese authorities. None of these sentences have been delivered transparently or with any opportunity for external scrutiny by third parties.
Very little evidence is ever made public and there are few signs that suspects are ever provided legal representation – a clear breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory (but has yet to ratify).
Amnesty International has called the death sentence “the ultimate denial of human rights” and reminded us that its use is in clear violation of the right to life under the Universal Declaration. The WUC reminds the international community that China has consistently been in clear violation of a number of internationally recognized human rights norms and continues to disregard the essential principles of freedom of speech and assembly as well as the right of legal due process.
China remains the world leader in the use of the death penalty, executing more people than any country last year combined. Executions rose from 682 in 2012 to 778 in 2013, according to Amnesty International, suggesting that China continues to move against the overwhelming trend away from its practice. Although Amnesty’s estimates are based on factual information taken from inside the country, many have suggested that the real figure is likely much higher.
The WUC also remains rightfully concerned with the most recent adoption of China’s new counter-terror legislation which looks to further criminalise quotidian behaviour and cultural or religious activities. What now falls under the ambit of the new law may include “speech or behaviour “that looks to “influence national policy making”. The actions of parents encouraging their children to take up religious practice may also now be characterized as “terrorist or extremist tendencies” under the new law.
The WUC therefore urges China to rethink its counter terror policy as well as its continued use of the death penalty, which neither serves to act as a deterrent nor is an acceptable method of punishment in the 21st century. The international community must also play an important role in pressuring the Chinese government to move away from its practice.