A group of Uygurs fleeing violence in China and forcibly returned to China from Cambodia have received prison sentences. Two men have been sentenced to life imprisonment and a third to 17 years in custody. The fate of 15 others, including two infants is unknown.
The Chinese authorities have refused to disclose the charges against the refugees or if, in fact, trials were held.
“The Uyghurs had fled from China in small groups between May and October 2009 and had applied to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for refugee status in Phnom Penh.
Their cases were still under review when they were forcibly returned to China.”Radio Free Asia
The Uyghur people are a distinct ethnic group in the PRC. Until the late 1800s they formed an independent country, East Turkestan, but various political machinations put paid to their independence. For a brief period in the twentieth century an independent movement flourished, but ended with the Communist Revolution. Currently there are those again working to achieve an independent state.
The central PRC government is fierce about maintaining its territory. Calling those agitating for independence ‘splittists’ and since 9/11 ‘terrorists’ and using sometimes brutal means to keep control of the province of Xinjiang. Another method of keeping control in an area is to encourage the influx of Han Chinese(the majority ethnic group) to settle in the area, eventually becoming the dominant culture.
It is unlikely that Xinjiang(East Turkistan) will achieve independence. From its historically strategic position on the Silk Road to modern times, it borders important foreign holdings – Russia, Kazakstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Tibet. In addition to agricultural potential, mineral wealth, oil and gas reserves and the potential for developing hydroelectric dams, the province is the test site for the Chinese atomic weapons at Lop Nor(also Lop Nur). Interestingly, if you do a search for Lop Nor on the official Chinese web map, it comes up not found.