BEIJING – A Chinese court sentenced five more people to death for killing a police officer with a brick, kicking bystanders to death and other crimes committed during ethnic riots that rocked the western region of Xinjiang in July.
The Intermediate People's Court of Urumqi also sentenced two others Thursday to life in prison, said a woman who answered the phone at the media center of the Xinjiang regional government. Like many Chinese officials, she refused to give her name.
China announced last month that nine Uighurs had been executed for taking part in the ethnic rioting that left nearly 200 people dead in July. It was China's worst ethnic violence in decades.
The five identified in the official Xinhua News Agency's report Thursday had names indicating they were Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim ethnic group linguistically and culturally distinct from the Han. The agency said the cases were heard in the Uighur language. Many Uighurs resent Beijing's heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, their traditional homeland, and the region has long been wracked by ethnic tensions that occasionally break out into acts of violence.
Hundreds of people were rounded up after the riots, in which Uighurs attacked members of China's Han ethnic majority on July 5, only to face retaliatory attacks two days later.
Of the five sentenced to death Thursday, Memeteli Islam was accused of killing a police officer by smashing him in the back of the head with a brick.
Mamattursun Elmu and Memeteli Abburakm were accused of attacking a minibus and kicking a man and woman inside until they died. Mamattursun Elmu was also charged with setting fire to a grain distribution center, killing five people.
Helil Sadir was accused of killing a bystander with a beer bottle and kicks to the face, and Kushiman Kurban was found guilty of stabbing a bystander to death.
China blames the rioting on overseas-based groups agitating for broader rights for Uighurs in Xinjiang. Five months after the violence, Xinjiang remains smothered in heavy security, with Internet access cut and international direct dialing calls blocked.
Overseas Uighur groups deny having a hand in the violence and say the trials of riot suspects are politically biased. They say judges have been ordered to issue death sentences before trial and suspects tortured into giving incriminating testimony.
"The Chinese government has brazenly ignored all standards of due process of law in a campaign to silence and intimidate the Uighur population through executions and mass detentions," Rebiya Kadeer, leader of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, said in a statement e-mailed to journalists.