BEIJING - A Chinese court in the restive far western region of Xinjiang on Monday sentenced six people to death for murder and other crimes committed during ethnic rioting in July in which almost 200 people died.

It was not clear from the report by the official Xinhua news agency if any of the death sentences would be commuted, as sometimes happens in China, or appealed against. Another person was given life imprisonment, Xinhua said.

The reported names of those convicted left little doubt that they were Uighurs, a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people native to Xinjiang. But the report did not specify their ethnicity.

They were the first people to be convicted for involvement in the riots, and the convictions may revive memories of the discontent and bloodshed that have left Xinjiang increasingly divided.

All seven men had been convicted of murder, and some of them were also convicted of arson or robbery, the report said.

At least one of the men was found guilty of murdering five innocents with a dagger or beating them to death, Xinhua added.

Another was found guilty of burning five people to death when he set fire to a shop, it said.

But Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said the trial had been a sham, adding he feared those charged after the riots had been tortured in detention.

The whole process lacked transparency and was unfair, he said by telephone. They were not given any kind of legal aid. Uighurs have no protection under the law.

State television showed deserted streets and heavy security around the courthouse, which it said was closed for all other business.

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, Xinjiang's capital, 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 dead, mostly Han Chinese, 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 Ben Blanchard; Editing by Chris Buckley and Sanjeev Miglani)