BEIJING - A Chinese court sentenced four more people to death for their part in bloody ethnic rioting in July last year in Urumqi, the capital of far western Xinjiang region, state media reported on Tuesday.
The new trial brings the number of death sentences for the rioting to at least 26, of which at least nine have already been carried out.
Judging from the names, the four sentenced to death are 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.
Another defendant received the death penalty with a two-year reprieve, which is usually commuted to life in prison, the Xinhua News Agency said on its website (www.xinhuanet.com.cn). Eight others received life sentences or other jail terms.
Uighurs attacked Han Chinese in Urumqi on July 5 last year after protests against Han attacks on Uighur workers in South China a few weeks earlier.
Han launched revenge attacks two days later.
Since July 5, China hasn't stopped using these heartless methods to raise the pressure on Uighurs, said Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress. We think that these trials respond to a political need in China.
At least 197 people died in the riots, mostly Han Chinese who form the majority of the Chinese population.
The Xinjiang government earlier this month said it would nearly double its security budget in 2009 but also committed to policies to boost economic growth in partial recognition of the economic forces behind the conflict.
Dilxat said many Uighurs believe Han Chinese benefit more from economic growth. I believe if Uighurs don't have political rights, they can't enjoy economic rights.
(Reporting by Yu Le and Lucy Hornby; Editing by Paul Tait)