BEIJING • The authorities in China's far-western region of Xinjiang have reduced the sentences of 11 people jailed for threatening state security after declaring the success of a de-radicalisation programme, state news agency Xinhua reported.
Hundreds of people have been killed in violence in Xinjiang in the past few years. The government blames the unrest on Islamist militants who want to set up an independent state called East Turkestan for minority Uighurs, a mostly Muslim people from Xinjiang who speak a Turkic language.
Seven of the convicts had their life sentences reduced to terms ranging from 191/2 to 20 years, including people convicted of instigating "secessionist activities" or participating in terror attacks, Xinhua said late on Tuesday.
The other four had their terms cut by six months from initial sentences of eight to 15 years, it added.
A spokesman for the main Uighur exile group dismissed the report as "political propaganda".
Xinhua quoted Xinjiang governor Shohrat Zakird as saying jails in the region had been very successful in their de-radicalisation efforts, with a "majority" of convicts becoming law-abiding citizens. He added that efforts need to continue in this regard with a focus on those convicted of harming state security.
Xinhua said this had been accomplished by inviting religious leaders and scholars to talk to prisoners about "correct religious belief".
The report said one of the convicts, Memet Tohti Memet Rozi, had had close contact with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, the group that Beijing blames for much of the violence in Xinjiang, and the Taleban in Afghanistan, where he helped train people from Xinjiang to become militants.
"I could not hold back my tears when I learnt of the commutation," Xinhua quoted him as saying.
Reuters was unable to reach officials in Xinjiang for comment, or any family members of the convicts to verify their stories.
Exiles and rights groups say the real cause of the unrest is heavy- handed Chinese policies, including curbs on Uighur culture, and a dearth of economic opportunity, rather than any cohesive militant group.