China to prosecute former Xinjiang editor who queried party line

By Ben Blanchard BEIJING (Reuters) - China will prosecute the former editor-in-chief of the official Communist Party publication in the violence-prone far western region of Xinjiang on charges of corruption after he queried ethnic and security policies, the paper said on Monday. Hundreds of people have died in the last few years in Xinjiang unrest blamed by the government on Islamist militants. Rights groups and exiles say controls on the religion and culture of the Muslim Uighur people who call the region home are more to blame for the violent outbreaks. China denies any such repression takes place. Zhao Xinwei had run the Xinjiang Daily until he was put under investigation in May for suspected "serious discipline breaches", a term that generally refers to graft. An investigation has found that Zhao "improperly discussed" party policies in Xinjiang and "publicly made comments in opposition" to how the party conducted itself in the region, the newspaper said in a terse front page report. "(His) words and deeds were not in line with the centre or regional party committee," it added, citing infringements over issues of principle such as opposition to separatism, "violent terrorism" and religious extremism, but did not elaborate. The party bars overt dissent by members on key issues, maintaining a firm line that state media never question. New discipline rules unveiled last month ban "baseless comments" on major policies. Zhao's case underscores China's tough media controls in Xinjiang, said Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for exile group the World Uyghur Congress. "The media has to push China's hostile propaganda against the Uighurs and make excuses for repression," he added. The investigation further found that Zhao abused his position, squandered public funds, took gifts and embezzled money, the report said. He has been expelled from the party and his case handed over to legal authorities, meaning he will be prosecuted, it added. It was not possible to reach Zhao for comment and unclear if he had a lawyer. China's courts and prosecutors come under party jurisdiction and do not challenge party accusations. According to his official biography, Zhao, 58, had worked in Xinjiang for most of his career, arriving in 1986 in its far southern city of Kashgar, deep in the Uighur heartland, where he eventually became propaganda chief. Zhao, a Han Chinese, ran the Xinjiang Daily from January 2011 and is one of only a handful of regional officials to be ensnared in President Xi Jinping's war on corruption. Separately, the Xinjiang Daily said Zhao Guoming, head of the region's poverty-relief office, would also be prosecuted for suspected graft. The two men are not related. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)