Four ethnic minority men have been sentenced to death for the latest spate of violent attacks in China's Central Asian borderlands.
The sentences are the first tied to the July violence that left dozens dead in the far western region of Xinjiang. The four were sentenced to death Tuesday by courts in Hotan and Kashgar, the cities where the attacks occurred, the China Daily newspaper said Thursday.
Two other men were given 19-year jail terms, it said.
Xinjiang is home to largely Muslim ethnic Uighurs (pronounced WEE'-gur) who say they have been marginalized by an influx of China's majority Han to the region. The region has been on edge since nearly 200 people were killed in fighting between Uighurs and Han Chinese in 2009 in Urumqi, the regional capital.
Violence flared anew July 18, when a group of Uighurs stormed a police station in Hotan and took hostages, killing four. Then, just days later on July 30 and 31, Uighurs in Kashgar hijacked a truck, set a restaurant on fire and stabbed people in the street.
Authorities said 14 of the attackers were shot by police in Hotan, and five assailants were killed in the violence in Kashgar.
China says the incidents were organized terror attacks, but an overseas Uighur rights group says they were anti-government riots carried out by angry citizens.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the German-based World Uyghur Congress, said sources in Xinjiang told him the suspects sentenced Tuesday were beaten and deprived sleep in custody and that they were given court-appointed lawyers instead of being allowed to choose their own.
He said the suspects were "desperate people who took measures they should not have taken," but he denied they had links to organized terror.
"For 10 years, China has labeled any kind of Uighur opposition as terrorism," Dilxat said Thursday. "Han Chinese who cause explosions or kill people are said to be involved in mass incidents or criminal activities. They are not called terrorists."
A woman who answered the phone at the Hotan Intermediate People's Court refused to give her name and said she had no information on the case. A call to the Kashgar Intermediate People's Court rang unanswered.
The Chinese-language Xinjiang Legal Daily said in a report on the Tianshan.net news portal that the six men sentenced Tuesday had been charged with leading and organizing a terror group, manufacturing illegal explosives, intentional homicide, arson and "other crimes."
A video released in late August purportedly made by the Turkistan Islamic Party, which seeks independence for Xinjiang, said the July attacks were revenge against the Chinese government. It said Memtieli Tiliwaldi, a suspect in the attacks who was shot by Xinjiang police, had trained in a TIP training camp. TIP is a militant Muslim group that analysts believe may be based in Pakistan.
Uighur activists and security analysts blame the violence on economic marginalization and restrictions on Uighur culture and the Muslim religion that are breeding frustration and anger among young Uighurs.
China's leaders say they have invested billions of dollars to improve living standards and modernize Xinjiang, and the China Daily reported Thursday that 31 large state-owned enterprises plan to pour 991.6 billion yuan ($155 billion) in Xinjiang from 2011 to 2015.
It said the investment will boost the region's infrastructure and transform it into a major production base for petroleum and energy-related industries.