China sentences 3 more to death over ethnic riots

AP News
Posted: Dec 04, 2009 7:24 AM

China sentenced three more people to death Friday for murder and other crimes committed in riots in the western region of Xinjiang in July.

The ruling brings to 17 the number of death sentences handed down over China's worst ethnic violence in decades.

The sentences by the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court came a day after the court sentenced five to death over the riots.

The sentences were confirmed by a Ms. Wu from the Xinjiang regional government's press office. Like many Chinese officials she refused to give her full name.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court also sentenced a fourth person to life in prison.

China announced last month that nine people had been executed for taking part in the ethnic rioting that left nearly 200 people dead in July.

Xinhua identified the defendants as Heyrinisa Sawut, Ruzikhari Niyaz and Li Longfei. The first two are Uighur names and the third is Han Chinese.

It said Sawut was convicted of bashing in the head of a man, who died of brain damage. Niyaz smashed the head of a taxi driver with a pick-ax, killing him, while Li attacked and killed two passers-by with a stick.

On Thursday, it published names indicating that the five people sentenced to death then were Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim ethnic group linguistically and culturally distinct from the Han.

Xinhua said the trials were heard in open sessions with relatives of the defendants and the victims in the court.

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. China says it respects minority rights and has spent billions on boosting living standards and economies in minority areas such as Xinjiang.

Hundreds of people were rounded up after the July riots, in which Uighurs attacked members of China's Han ethnic majority on July 5, only to face retaliatory attacks two days later.

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.