BEIJING (AP) — Chinese authorities said Monday they broke up 32 terror groups and arrested more than 380 suspects in the far west in the first month of a crackdown aimed at demonstrating the Communist Party's resolve to maintain order in a borderland hit by recent unrest. Many suspects received rapid trials and stiff sentences, including death penalties.
Security forces also seized several hundred explosive devices, a few tons of explosive material and computers and books about terrorism and religious extremism, officials from the Xinjiang region told reporters.
The crackdown follows a string of high-profile attacks on civilians since late October that have handed Communist Party leader Xi Jinping a major security challenge during his first year and a half in office. Last month, a market bombing killed 43 people in the region's capital, Urumqi.
Authorities have responded to the attacks by taking an even harder line toward the already tightly controlled region, overshadowing the government's promises of creating more jobs and educational opportunities for the region.
Officials have made a flurry of announcements of prosecutions, arresting scores of suspects and putting them through swift trials resulting in heavy sentences. In some cases of unrest, police have fatally shot alleged assailants, including 13 people who authorities said tried to ram a police station in Kashgar prefecture on Saturday.
The high-intensity campaign has raised concerns among rights groups that the authorities' rapid prosecutions may come at the expense of judicial procedure and the protection of citizens' legal rights.
Human Rights Watch researcher Maya Wang said perpetrators of violent attacks in the region should be held accountable but that the authorities' current "strike hard" campaign might prove counterproductive.
"Usually in these types of high-level crime crackdowns there's a political pressure to focus on these kinds of crimes and find the perpetrators quickly and there are a lot of risks for coerced confessions and the lifting of basic procedural protections," Wang said. This might result in officials rounding up people to take the blame for various crimes, while the true perpetrators go free, she said.
Beijing says the attackers are religious extremists with ties to overseas Islamic terror groups, but has publicly shown little evidence to support that. Uighur rights advocates say tensions are fueled by an influx of settlers from China's Han ethnic majority and official discrimination that indigenous groups complain has marginalized them.