On Tuesday, a court in Urumqi sentenced four more people to death for ''extremely serious crimes'', said Ma Xinchun, director of the Urumqi government's press office, who did not elaborate more on the issue. A fifth defendant was also sentenced to death but was given a two-year reprieve—a penalty usually commuted to life in prison. Based on their names, all those given death sentences appeared to be Uyghurs.
This verdict brings to 26 the number of death penalties imposed following the July riots; some have already been carried out.
Uyghurs have become a minority in their own land (46 per cent of 21 million residents) after China adopted a policy of mass immigration of ethnic Han Chinese into the region. By and large, newcomers get special treatment in business and government employment.
On 5 July 2009, some Uyghurs attacked ethnic Han Chinese, rioting and burning cars. In the next two days, Han Chinese struck back, targeting Uyghurs. At least 197 people were killed in the clashes with many thousands more injured, partly as a result of police repression. Based on the available evidence, almost all of those arrested or sentenced to death are ethnic Uyghurs.
Meanwhile, senior Communist Party leader Zhou Yongkang said the party's Politburo would hold a conference later this year ''to make a plan to support the development of Xinjiang and promote the long-term stability and prosperity of Xinjiang.''
In Beijing, Chinese leaders discussed the Xinjiang problem for two days. Developing the region’s oil and gas reserves was one of the issues on the table. Xinxiang’s economy grew by 8 per cent last year.
Like a recent meeting on troubled Tibet, which lies next to Xinjiang, this meeting underscored Beijing's belief that the cure to ethnic strife lies in faster economic development, rather than a rethink of strict, top-down political controls, said Nicholas Bequelin , a researcher on China with Human Rights Watch.
Tibet and Xinjiang have many things in common. In both regions, Chinese policy is one of persecution of the indigenous population through repression and discrimination as well as large-scale investments designed to encourage settlers (see Willy Wo-lap Lam, “New policy on Tibet: repression and modernization,” in AsiaNews, 26 January 2010).
In Xinjiang, indigenous Uyghurs have long complained that economic development has disproportionately benefited ethnic Han Chinese who hold all the key positions in government and business. What is more, the region is being stripped of its natural riches to the benefit of China’s coastal provinces.
“Xinjiang is much more important than Tibet in high politics in Beijing, because of its oil and gas and strategic importance,” said Bequelin. It is in fact a key transit point for pipelines coming from Iran and Central Asia.
In early January, funding for public security in Xinjiang was nearly doubled—from 1.54 billion yuan to 2.89 billion yuan (from US$ 225 million to US$ 425 million)—for 2010.