China sentences five to death

December 3, 2009 12:00 am

, BEIJING, Dec 3 – A court in China\’s restive Xinjiang region sentenced five people to death on Thursday for murder and other crimes committed during deadly unrest in July, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.

Two others were sentenced to life imprisonment by the court in the regional capital of Urumqi and six others were given varying jail terms, it said.

China last month executed nine people who were convicted for their roles in the violence that left nearly 200 people dead and 1,600 injured, according to the government, in China\’s worst unrest in decades.

The executions drew criticism from Western governments and rights groups who questioned the fairness of the trials.

Violence erupted in the streets of Urumqi on July 5, when ethnic Uighur Muslims began attacking Han Chinese. In subsequent days, roving mobs of Han attacked Turkic-speaking Uighurs.

Xinhua identified the five sentenced to death as Memeteli Islam, Mamattursun Elmu, Memeteli Abburakm, Kushiman Kurban and Helil Sadir, names that appeared to be Uighur.

Hundreds of people, including relatives of the defendants and of victims, were present when the cases were heard, in the Uighur language with translation in Chinese, Xinhua said.

Trials in five other cases connected with the unrest will be heard by the court on Friday, Xinhua said, citing court sources.

Officials at the Urumqi intermediate court, which sentenced the defendants, refused to comment when contacted by AFP.

In earlier trials in October, 21 people were convicted for a range of crimes linked to the violence, including the nine who were executed.

Three others were given death sentences with two-year reprieves, meaning their punishment could be commuted to life in prison depending on their behaviour. The others were given jail sentences of varying lengths.

The charges in the various cases have included murder, arson, robbery, causing personal injury, and property damage.

China\’s roughly eight million Turkic-speaking Uighurs have long complained of religious, political and cultural oppression by Chinese authorities — which China denies — and tensions have simmered in Xinjiang for years.

China says it faces a serious terrorist threat from Muslim separatists in Xinjiang, but rights groups have accused Beijing of exaggerating the danger to justify repression in the vast region bordering Central Asia.

Authorities have blamed the July unrest on "ethnic separatists", without providing any evidence.

But Uighurs say the violence was initially triggered when police cracked down on peaceful protests in Urumqi over a brawl in late June at a factory in southern China that state media said left two Uighurs dead.


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