UPDATED Oct. 15
HONG KONG—Authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of northwest China have sentenced to death a further six people over bloody ethnic unrest in July, bringing the total to 12.
Three of the six were given the death penalty with a two-year reprieve, a sentence usually commuted to life in prison, over the worst ethnic violence in China for decades.
The Intermediate People's Court in the regional capital Urumqi sentenced three others to life in jail and five people to lesser prison terms for their role in the deadly riots.
The second round of sentencing came after six ethnic minority Uyghur men were found guilty of murder and handed death sentences by the Intermediate People’s Court in the regional capital of Urumqi on Monday.
Abdukerim Abduwayit, Gheni Yusup, Abdulla Mettohti, Adil Rozi, Nureli Wuxiu’er, and Alim Metyusup were sentenced to death on Oct. 12 for the murders of 19 people during the July 5 violence, which flared after an originally peaceful demonstration of Uyghurs clashed with police.
A spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress of ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs said the men did not receive a fair trial.
"They would like the rest of the world to know that the relatives did not have the right to choose a lawyer while they were in detention," said Dilxat Rashit.
"What's more, they weren't allowed to communicate with their family members while they were being detained."
Rashit added that the lawyers appointed by the courts to defend the men did not communicate with family members either. "The lawyers only met with them on one occasion, and that was for around 10 minutes," he said.
The original Uyghur demonstration that sparked the July violence was calling for a full investigation of mob violence against Uyghur migrant workers in a factory in southern China, in which at least two people died.
“More than 400 people, including legislators, political advisors, family members of the defendants and victims, and journalists, observed the court hearings,” Xinhua reported.
It said trial proceedings were carried out in the Uyghur language, with simultaneous interpretation throughout.
The Urumqi sentencing came hard on the heels of a death sentence handed down to a Han Chinese man by a court in the southern city of Shaoguan, Guangdong province, for attacking Uyghur workers at a factory in the city.
Many of those involved in the July 5 violence in Urumqi said it was apparently sparked by popular anger among Uyghurs at the government’s handling of the Shaoguan incident.
According to Xinhua, Abdukerim Abduwayit was convicted of the murders of five bystanders with dagger and pipe wrench, of setting fire to a downtown building, and of causing economic losses of more than 260,000 yuan (U.S. $38,000).
The agency said Gheni Yusup led Abdulla Mettohti, Adil Rozi, and Nureli Wuxiu’er in beating four people to death and injuring another.
They were convicted of murder and smashing and looting shops and vehicles.
Meanwhile, Abdulla Mettohti was convicted of the murders of five people who died after a grain and oil shop was set ablaze, while Alim Metyusup was convicted of the murders of five people.
Another Uyghur man, Tayirejan Abulimit, was convicted of the murders of three people but received a life sentence because he helped the police track down the other suspects, Xinhua said.Jail terms
An employee who answered the phone at the Xuri toy factory, scene of the Shaoguan disturbances, said local Han Chinese were shocked at the death sentence handed down to Xiao Jianhua, one of 11 men tried for their part in the riots by the Wujiang District People’s Court.
One other defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment, while the remaining nine men received jail terms ranging from five to nine years.
“We knew a week ago that they would be sentenced, but we didn’t expect such heavy sentences,” the employee said.
“One was sentenced to death, and another to life imprisonment. No one at the factory has said anything about the incident. Everyone here thinks the sentences were too severe, and they have a feeling of injustice,” he said.
“We [Han Chinese] are sentenced to death for trouble that was started by the people from Xinjiang. They were only given jail terms of five or six years. Everyone here thinks that this is unfair.”Migrants left
He said that 230 of the 770 Uyghur migrant workers had gone back to Shufu county in Xinjiang after receiving compensation for injuries suffered in the riots.
“Two hundred of them have left. They didn’t want to stay here. After they received compensation, they were told to leave. They got between 10,000 and 20,000 yuan, apparently to do with their being dismissed before their employment contract was up,” he said.
He said the Uyghur migrant workers were being sent back gradually to their hometowns.
“They will probably all be gone by April or May next year,” he said.
The Shaoguan violence erupted between a group of Han Chinese and ethnic Uyghur workers after a rumor spread that some Uyghurs had raped two women. Officials later denied the rumor.
The courts in Shaoguan sentenced another Han Chinese man to life imprisonment, while nine others received sentences ranging from five to eight years in jail, official media reported.
Xinhua said that two Uyghur workers were beaten to death in the fight, while three others were severely injured.Possible backlash
Rights lawyer Teng Biao, interviewed by telephone from Beijing, suggested that the death sentences handed down to Uyghurs in Urumqi might prompt a backlash.
“This kind of sentence aims to create a threatening environment through harsh punishment, but it might not work,” he said.
Authorities are more interested in imposing severe punishments than in addressing the root causes of violence, he said.
“This many death sentences—it could exacerbate tensions between Han Chinese and Uyghurs,” Teng said.
Uyghurs, who are Turkic-speaking Muslims, have long complained of economic inequality, religious controls, and lack of freedom of expression under Chinese rule—notably since Han Chinese began migrating to Xinjiang in large numbers in the 1960s.
China has blamed Uyghurs for a long list of bombings, assassinations, and other crimes inside and outside Xinjiang and has alleged that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network has provided weapons, money, and training in Afghanistan to what it calls a Uyghur terrorist group.
But human rights activists have accused the government of using its anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang to justify harsh tactics to suppress political dissent among the Uyghurs.Original reporting by RFA’s Uyghur, Cantonese, and Mandarin services. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.