HONG KONG— A court in China's western region of Xinjiang sentenced three people to death Monday for organizing a terrorist plot that targeted Tiananmen Square in China's capital last October. The speedy trial ended with prison terms for another five people and is part of a crackdown against terrorism in one of the country's most restive regions.
Chinese state television said the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court found three people guilty of organizing and leading a terrorist organization and endangering public safety.
The announcer said the accused are sentenced to death and stripped of their political rights for life.
Another five people were given jail terms ranging from life imprisonment to five years in prison for participating in a terrorist group and endangering public safety.
According to the court, they provided assistance for a terrorist attack in Beijing, when a car ran people over outside the Forbidden City in Tiananmen Square.
The incident in Tiananmen caused the death of two tourists, and also killed the passengers of the car, who authorities say all belonged to the same family from Xinjiang.
Chinese state television showed the defendants appearing in court wearing orange vests. Video footage taken by surveillance cameras in Tiananmen at the time of the attack was shown in court. A white jeep is seen speeding onto the sidewalk and through a crowd of people.
The Uighur ‘threat’
Monday's sentence comes a month after the Chinese government launched a year-long campaign against terrorism, which authorities say is carried out by separatists who want to establish an independent state in Xinjiang.
The region is home to many Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim minority that has grown increasingly unhappy with Chinese restrictions on their culture.
Uighur rights groups say the government is exaggerating the threat of terrorism instead of addressing the real problems of discrimination and religious suppressions against Uighurs in Xinjiang.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uighur Congress, says that in the current crackdown against terrorism, political motivations trump legal proceedings.
He says that based on information gathered from sources in Xinjiang, lawyers, especially Uighur lawyers, are now asked to clarify their political stance and take part in the crackdown against separatists. He says that means that under the current political campaign, they are not put in a position to provide even the basic legal help to defendants.
Chinese state media said that the eight defendants sentenced on Monday had accepted defense by a lawyer appointed by the court and saw their rights protected during the trial which lasted one day and was held on Friday.
The trial found that the defendants had established a terrorist group in 2011 and had since started recruiting members.
According to the court, the defendants had met the car's driver and his family in Beijing and had provided them with financial assistance weeks before the attack in Tiananmen.
News reports on Monday did not offer further details about the evidence collected against the defendants or how the defendants knew the family who drove the jeep into bystanders in Beijing.
A police report released at the time of their arrests in October said they had confessed to taking part in the terrorist plot.