December 24, 2009 / 4:07 AM / in 8 years

China sentences five more to death for Xinjiang riot

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court sentenced five more people to death for their part in bloody ethnic rioting earlier this year in Urumqi, the capital of far western Xinjiang region, a local government spokeswoman said on Thursday.

A woman holds onto a Chinese policeman as a crowd of locals confront security forces along a street in the city of Urumqi, in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region July 7, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray

The new trial, not reported in national Chinese media, brings the number of death sentences for the rioting to at least 22, of which at least nine have already been carried out.

Uighurs attacked Han Chinese in Urumqi on July 5, after protests against Han attacks on Uighur workers in South China a few weeks earlier. Han launched revenge attacks two days later.

At least 197 people died, mostly Han Chinese, who form the majority in China.

“Altogether 22 defendants in five cases went on trial on December 22 and December 23,” Hou Hanmin, director of the Xinjiang Government Information Office, told Reuters by phone.

Hou would not specify the charges, which she said were published in Xinjiang newspapers. The Internet has been blocked in Xinjiang since July, and local newspaper websites cannot be accessed from outside the region.

The intermediate court in Urumqi sentenced another five people to death with a two-year suspension, which is usually commuted to a life sentence, and jailed another eight for life, according to a statement faxed by the spokeswoman.

Judging from the names, the 10 sentenced to death or the suspended death sentence are likely all Uighurs, a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people native to Xinjiang. Many Uighurs resent an influx of Han Chinese that has left them accounting for only half the population of their homeland.

The statement said the court was shown ample evidence in the open trials, and that more similar trials would follow.

China last week persuaded Cambodia to deport a group of 20 Uighurs, including two small children, who fled China after the July riots and sought asylum with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees in Phnom Penh.

“Some of them are suspected of the crimes of arson and illegally making explosives,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a regular news conference, without elaborating.

Human rights groups have denounced their repatriation as a violation of international conventions on refugees and asylum seekers.

Editing by Ben Blanchard and Jerry Norton

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