BEIJING - A Chinese court on Thursday handed out a further three death sentences to people convicted of violent crimes during ethnic rioting in far western Xinjiang region in July in which almost 200 people died.
The official Xinhua news agency reported that a court in Urumqi, Xinjiang's regional capital, also sentenced three defendants to suspended death sentences, which could be commuted to life sentences in two years.
At least two of those sentenced were Han Chinese. The others all appeared to be Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group that calls Xinjiang its homeland, judging from their names.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said all the Uighurs who had stood trial so far had been denied a fair hearing, including the right to freely choose their defense lawyers.
The Chinese judgments are only making the situation more tense, he said in an emailed statement.
Six people have already been sentenced to death for their involvement in the ethnic unrest between Uighurs and Han Chinese. Their names suggested they were all Uighurs.
Last month, China announced the first charges to be laid in connection with the unrest, with 21 people charged with murder, arson, robbery and damaging property during ethnic riots that erupted in Urumqi on July 5.
In Xinjiang's worst ethnic violence in decades, Uighurs attacked majority Han Chinese in Urumqi, after taking to the streets to protest against attacks on Uighur workers at a factory in southern China in June that left two Uighurs dead.
Han Chinese in Urumqi sought revenge two days later.
The violence left 197 people, mostly Han Chinese, dead and wounded more than 1,600, according to official figures.
Energy-rich Xinjiang, strategically located in central Asia, has been struck in recent years by bombings, attacks and riots blamed by Beijing on Uighur separatists demanding an independent East Turkistan.
Many Uighurs resent government restrictions on their religion and culture and a massive influx of Han Chinese settlers which have in some areas reduced them to a minority in their own land.
Rights groups and Uighur activists also say Beijing grossly exaggerates the threat from militants to justify harsh controls.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley and Ben Blanchard, Editing by Ron Popeski)