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China sentences six to death over Xinjiang riots

October 13, 2009

by Robert Saiget
October 12, 2009

BEIJING -- China sentenced six people to death on
Monday over deadly July riots in its restive
Xinjiang region, state media reported, delivering
on a vow of harsh retribution over the ethnic unrest.

The six were convicted of murder and other crimes
by a court in the regional capital Urumqi in the
first trials over the riots that killed nearly
200 people and left the city riven by ethnic tension.

China Central Television (CCTV) said one other
defendant was sentenced to life in prison over
the unrest, in which members of the Uighur
minority went on a rampage in attacks directed at
members of China's dominant Han ethnic group.

Xinhua news agency said the seven, all men, were
convicted in three separate cases. It identified
them by names that appeared to be Uighur.

Television footage showed the defendants with
their heads shaved and wearing orange and blue
vests lined up or seated before the court
tribunals with most of the convicted appearing to
be in their twenties and thirties.

Authorities had tightened up security ahead of
the trials, state media reported, apparently
fearing the verdicts could touch off further violence.

China National Radio said up to 14,000 security
forces were deployed in the city on Sunday to begin 24-hour patrols.

The exiled World Uighur Congress condemned the
sentences, saying that the defendants were not
given access to lawyers of their own choosing.

"The verdicts by China against the Uighurs were
not reached in accordance with normal legal
procedures but were made in accordance with
political demands," congress spokesman Dilxat Raxit told AFP.

"Concerning the death sentences, we believe this
will only make the overall situation worse."

Locals contacted by AFP by phone shortly after
the verdicts were announced said the city
remained calm amid the heavy security.

Officials at the Urumqi court refused to
immediately confirm the sentences when contacted by AFP.

The riots were the worst ethnic violence to hit
China in decades, leaving 197 people dead, most
of them Han, and more than 1,600 injured, according to the government.

Detailing the cases, Xinhua said a man named
Abdukerim Abduwayit was convicted of beating five
innocent people to death and setting a building on fire.

Four others sentenced were convicted of jointly
beating four people to death, it said, while
another defendant killed five people when he set a grain shop on fire.

The man who received life in prison, Tayirejan
Abulimit, was convicted of "attacking, smashing,
looting and burning," a term Chinese authorities use for rioting.

"Tayirejan Abulimit was given life imprisonment,
a lesser punishment as he admitted charges of
murder and robbery and helped the police capture another suspect," Xinhua said.

Police have detained at least 718 people
suspected of crimes related to the unrest,
earlier reports said.» Charges against 21
defendants were publicised by Xinhua late last
month, with three other cases pending involving
14 other suspects who are facing charges of
homicide, arson, robbery and property damage related to the riots.

China's roughly eight million Uighurs have long
complained of religious, political and cultural
oppression by Chinese authorities.

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

One ethnic Han man was sentenced to death and a
second handed a life prison term over that brawl
in verdicts announced on Saturday in southern China.

Authorities, however, have blamed the Xinjiang
unrest on "ethnic separatists," without providing
any evidence, and have vowed to come down hard on
those found guilty, including use of the death penalty.

Urumqi has been under extremely heavy security
since the riots, tightened amid a wave of needle
attacks beginning in late August which Han have blamed on Uighurs.
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