“Altogether 22 defendants in five cases went on trial December 22- 23,” Hou Hanmin, director of the Xinjiang Government Information Office, was quoted as saying.
Ma Xinchun, a representative for the Urumqi city government, confirmed that five people were handed death sentences (with a two-year suspension). Eight defendants were given life in prison, whilst four more were handed sentences of 10 years or longer.
There is no information about who these people are but, according to Radio Free Asia, their names appear to be Uyghur.
Hou did not elaborate on the charges that led to the convictions and sentencing, but they all appear related to the July 2009 unrest. He did say that they were published by Xinjiang newspapers; however, since July internet has been blocked in the province and local newspaper websites cannot be accessed from outside.
Protests broke in the capital Urumqi on 5 July as a result of rising interethnic frustrations between indigenous Uyghurs and Han Chinese settlers. The latter have become a majority in Xinjiang and monopolise key political and economic positions thanks to an immigration policy pursued by the central government that provides them with a number of incentives, economic or otherwise, in order to move to the province.
Protests started out peacefully (pictured, the 5 July demonstration) but turned into interethnic clashes that pitted Muslim Uyghurs against Han Chinese. This was followed by two days of retaliatory attacks by ethnic Chinese. The official death toll stands at about 200 dead and thousands of wounded.
With the latest sentences, the number of death penalties handed down in connection with the riots has risen to 22, of which at least nine have already been carried out.
In the meantime, official sources announced more trials against people accused of masterminding the protests.
Similarly, Cambodia announced last week that it was going to send 20 Uyghurs back to China. They had fled Xinjiang after the protests and applied for refugee status at the UN representative’s office in Phnom Penh.
This decision meets Beijing’s demands but has been severely criticised by the United States.
Last week, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping signed a number of agreements worth US$ 1.2 billion during a visit to Cambodia. They include money for road building and the restoration of Buddhist temples.