A Chinese court has handed down death sentences to six men for their involvement in a riot in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang, in the first cases directly related to the deadly July riots in Xinjiang. Violence sparked by the rioting left nearly 200 people dead and more than 1,600 others injured. The six men had been charged for murder and other crimes. One other defendant was sentenced to life in prison.
Xinjiang regional government spokesman Li Jie confirmed all seven men were ethnic Uighurs. He was asked if he thought the sentences would stir up more violence in Xinjiang.
Li said that it is hard to say how ordinary people will react, but asserted the sentences are impartial. He says the courts later will hand down more sentences related to the riot. He added that everything will be handled according to the law.
However, Dilxat Rixit of the World Uighur Congress said that the sentences were unfair and the defendants did not receive a proper defense. He said the defendants' court-appointed lawyers only acted in the Chinese government's interest.
"These verdicts were motivated by politics, not the desire to see justice served," Rixit said.
Late last week, one man was sentenced to death and another to life in prison for their part in a toy factory brawl last June in China's southern Guangdong province. Two ethnic Uighurs were killed in the violence that sparked the rioting in Xinjiang.
Official media gave no details, but the names of the two men suggest they are ethnic Han, China's majority ethnic group.
The rioting in Xinjiang was some of China's worst ethnic violence in decades. Uighurs, angry over the deaths in Guangdong, led a protest march that police say ended in attacks on Han in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi. Han Chinese retaliated two days later, and attacked Uighurs, before Chinese troops restored order.
The Turkic-speaking Uighurs have long complained of discrimination by the Han, and say the government severely restricts their Muslim religious practices. The Chinese government says there is no discrimination and Uighurs, like other ethnic minorities, receive benefits the Han majority does not.