As China smothers Xinjiang, even mild critics are silenced

Chinese authorities have not only imposed a massive crackdown on Uighur (WEE'-ghur) activists in the far western region of Xinjiang (SHIN'-jee-ang), but also punished even moderate critics.

One of them is Zhang Haitao, a member of the Han ethnic majority and salesman by day who complained on social media about policies he said were unfair to the Muslim minority.

For that, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Zhang's lawyer says elsewhere in China, Zhang would have received no more than three years and may not have been prosecuted at all.

Zhang's wife says she had long feared a backlash despite her husband's relative obscurity. Xinjiang has been enveloped in a vast dragnet of police surveillance, which authorities say is needed to root out separatism and Islamic extremism.