The number of people held in China for state-security offenses rose by nearly 20 percent last year, with the majority of arrests made in areas of recurrent ethnic unrest, a U.S.-based rights group said in a report.
China arrested 1,105 people for crimes that come under the category of "endangering state security" in 2012, a rise of 19 percent compared with 2011, the Dui Hua Foundation said in a recent report, citing official
According to the China Law Yearbook 2013, the number of people indicted rose by eight percent to 1,049, the group said, pointing out that China's troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang accounted for a big component of security-related court hearings.
"Dui Hua estimates that Xinjiang accounted for 75 percent of [state security] trials in 2012 and 86 percent of [such] trials in 2011," the report said.
The group only has records of 17 named prisoners convicted of state security offenses last year, mainly because such the details of such cases are regarded as state secrets.
State security offenses can include "splittism," a charge often leveled against peaceful resistance to the ruling Chinese Communist Party's rule in ethnic minority areas like Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia.
However, Dui Hua also listed "incitement to subvert state power" under this category, a charge that has been used to jail prominent dissidents who call for democratic reform and who criticize the Party.
Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongolians
The group said three Tibetans--Yonten Gyatso, Lobsang Tashi and Bu Thupdor--were jailed in June and September for "illegally procuring state secrets for foreign entities."
Tibetans Tseyang and Jigme Drolma, both from the southwestern province of Sichuan, were also jailed for "inciting splittism," it said.
Meanwhile, ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs Sidik Kurban, Kurban Haji, Abdirahman Yimer, Mehmet Zunun Awut received jail terms ranging from 3-15 years for "splittism" or "incitement to splittism."
Ethnic Mongolian political activist Huuchinhuu was handed a suspended jail term of three years for "leaking state secrets," it said.
According to the China Law Yearbook, the authorities are implementing a policy of "high pressure" on state security crimes.
"[We must] resolutely fight the crimes of splittism, subversion, terrorism and all kinds of cult organizations in accordance with the law to maintain state security and social and political stability, consolidate the party’s ruling position, and defend the socialist regime," the Yearbook said.
Official media reported that the number of "violent terrorist incidents" rose to more than 190 in 2012, the Dui Hua report said.
"In Tibetan regions, the frequency of self-immolations increased dramatically ahead of the 18th Party Congress in November 2012," it said referring to the burning protests against Chinese rule in Tibetan-populated areas in China.
During the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review of China, the Chinese delegation blamed Tibet's spiritual leader the “Dalai Lama clique” for organizing the immolations.
China's leadership recently announced it would set up a national security committee, which is expected to focus on internal threats, particularly in Xinjiang and Tibetan regions, the report said.
"Due to real and perceived independence movements, Uyghurs and ethnic Tibetans bear the brunt of crackdowns on splittism and terrorism," it said, adding that terrorism isn't classed as a state security offense
Veteran Wuhan rights activist Qin Yongmin said the rise in the number of state security cases showed a more hardline approach on the part of China's leadership to dissent in recent years.
"People who have been arrested in recent years have simply been exercising their right to free speech, and those arrested have all been political dissidents calling for [change]," he said.
"People have been expressed their demands in the form of protests, meetings and demonstrations," said Qin, who was himself jailed for subversion after helping to set up the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP).
Hu Ping, editor of the U.S.-based online magazine Beijing Spring, said he wasn't surprised at the rise in state security-related arrests.
"[President] Xi Jinping is maintaining the high pressure policy to maintain stability of [his predecessor] Hu Jintao," Hu said.
He said the approach was unlikely to be effective, however.
"There will always be a lot of people who...come out in protest, and raise their voices to speak out, so the high pressure policy has now become something they can't do without," he said.
"The government is trying to prevent the pro-democracy movement from growing, and to make people live in ever-present fear," Hu added.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), said he believed the figures didn't take into account large numbers of Uyghurs secretly detained or "disappeared" since deadly ethnic violence of July 2009 under state security offenses.
And Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said the majority of Han Chinese dissidents are sentenced under the less serious crimes of "incitement to subvert state power," including jailed 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
Reported by He Ping for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for theCantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.