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Students of Convicted Uighur Scholar Get Jail Sentences

FILE - Economist Ilham Tohti speaks to students at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing, China.

A Chinese court has given jail terms of between three and eight years to the students of Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was convicted earlier this year of separatism.

Tohti's lawyer said the seven students were found guilty of aiding "separatist activities" at a secret trial Monday in Urumqi, the capital of the far-west Xinjiang region.

Chinese authorities have not commented on the conviction of the students, six of whom belonged to the Uighur ethnic minority that complains of government persecution.

Tohti was convicted of separatism and sentenced to life in prison in September. The conviction relied partly on the testimony of his students, who helped him run the Uighur Online website.

The 45-year-old ex-economics professor is a longtime defender of Uighur rights and a fervent critic of the government. But he denies calling for independence in Xinjiang.

In recent years, the region has seen an increasing number of riots and attacks on police and civilians. Several hundred people have died in the unrest.

Beijing blames Muslim separatists that it says are being funded and inspired by overseas terrorist groups. It has launched a wide-ranging "anti-terror" campaign in Xinjiang.

Many international rights groups say the violence is being driven by Beijing's repression of Muslim religious life and preferential treatment toward the Han majority that have migrated to the area.