BEIJING Courts in China's far western region of Xinjiang have sentenced 19 ethnic Uighurs to up to six years in jail for promoting racial hatred and religious extremism online, in the latest crackdown on what China sees as violent separatists.
All but one of those jailed were from the heavily Uighur southern part of Xinjiang, including eight from the old Silk Road city of Kashgar, the official Legal Daily reported on its website.
Many Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people who call energy-rich Xinjiang home, chafe at Chinese government restrictions on their culture, language and religion. China says it grants them wide-ranging freedoms.
In one of the cases, the suspect went on illegal websites to download material which "whipped up religious fervour and preached 'holy war'" and "whipped up ethnic enmity", the Legal Daily said in its report late on Wednesday.
"This created a despicable effect on society," the newspaper said, citing the court ruling.
Another suspect was jailed for spreading materials from overseas via the Internet which "advocate religious extremism and terrorism", the newspaper added.
While the report did not specify the ethnicity of those jailed, their names and the location of the courts where they were sentenced indicated they were all Uighurs.
China accuses armed Uighur groups of having links to Central Asian and Pakistani Islamist militants, and of carrying out attacks to establish an independent state called East Turkistan.
Many rights groups say China overplays the threat posed to justify its tough controls in Xinjiang.
The region, which lies strategically on the borders of Central Asia, India and Pakistan, sees frequent outbreaks of ethnic violence.
In April, 21 people were killed in clashes near Kashgar, the deadliest unrest since July 2009, when nearly 200 people were killed in riots in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)