People gather outside the High Court of the People’s Republic of China to hear judgment that summary trials of Uyghurs were held in violation of Chinese laws. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
BEIJING — A court in China on Monday ruled that last year’s violence in far western Xinjiang province was the result of a national policy to suppress separatists, opening the door to possible prosecution of thousands of public servants.
Following the legal opinion, which came from a national public tribunal, China’s justice minister appealed to judges, police officers and others working in the far western region of Xinjiang to consider whether their actions had “a positive effect on … unity, confidence and harmony.”
A joint statement by the regime and its Uyghur minority, condemning the violence that killed almost two dozen people and injured more than 100 on July 5, 2016, cast blame for the unrest on the militants of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a Muslim separatist movement.
But the tribunal’s finding that government policies led to the violence, and that “the relevant policies … were plotted and shaped by the highest levels of the Communist Party of China,” will likely be used by advocates for legal reform in the region to bring perpetrators to court, leading to those most closely tied to the violence being prosecuted.
“There was a massive distortion of facts in the official story,” said Ilham Tohti, a prominent ethnic Uyghur economist, who wrote on his blog that Monday’s verdict proved “the government has finally admitted what they have been saying all along: these are true acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide, an unprecedented crime against humanity.”
The verdict is the latest chapter in the legal history of ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang, as the government clings to policies that they say protects their people. Those policies have been the subject of rampant trial and crackdowns.
The two groups have long battled for rights. Before the July violence, hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs had been detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang.
“The historical people in Xinjiang have been killed and tortured and have suffered decades of mental torture,” said Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, whose followers include many of the 216,000 ethnic Uyghurs who have arrived in Europe over the past year, fleeing what they describe as harsh, corrupt and abusive police rules.
He said the legal opinion was extremely significant.
“This is only the beginning of what we hope will be a political struggle to force the Chinese authorities to end the ruthless suppression of Uyghurs,” he said.
The announcement of the public trial is significant because it marked the first time that China had opened a judicial opinion, including the findings, to the public.