- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - Authorities in China’s far west Muslim minority region have sentenced a man to 15 years in jail for organizing nonviolent rallies and another to eight years imprisonment for raising a separatist flag, an overseas advocacy group said Tuesday.

China says the man who reportedly raised the flag was jailed for attempting to steal explosives.

The harsh sentences come amid heightened security in Xinjiang, home to a native Turkic Uighur population, many of whom claim they were independent for much of their history. Officials there have vowed to step up their fight against separatists following a series of deadly attacks last year.

On March 6, Mamatali Ahat was sentenced to eight years in prison after he raised a flag symbolizing an independent Uighur republic, the Washington-based Uyghur American Association said in a statement.

He raised the flag next to a statue in the city of Hotan depicting China’s communist founder Mao Zedong shaking hands with a Uighur farmer.

A man who answered the phone at the Hotan Municipal Court but did not want to give his name confirmed the sentence and said details of the case could be found in an official report posted March 9 to the Web site of the law and politics committee of the Xinjiang regional Communist Party.

The report said Ahat was planning to blow up the statue. He rode a motorbike to the local armed police barracks in the early morning of Sept. 22 to steal explosives. Armed with a knife, he jumped over the wall into the courtyard and was caught, it said.

On Feb. 26 Abdukadir Mahsum was sentenced to 15 years in prison for organizing demonstrations against religious repression and the death of a well-known Uighur philanthropist while in police custody in the city of Hotan in March 2008, the group said.

The man who answered the phone at the court said he had not heard of the case.

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