BEIJING – China has executed nine men, including eight from the Muslim Uighur minority, for crimes committed during July riots that killed 200 people in far western Xinjiang region. The men are the first to be put to death for the country’s worst ethnic violence in decades.
The nine had been convicted of murder and other crimes committed during the unrest, which began July 5 when Uighurs in the regional capital of Urumqi attacked Han people, who make up China’s dominant ethnicity, only to face retaliatory attacks two days later.
Many Uighurs, who are a Turkic Muslim ethnic group linguistically and culturally distinct from the Han, resent Beijing’s heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, their traditional homeland.
Four months after the riots, Xinjiang remains smothered in heavy security, with Internet access cut and most international calls blocked.
The official China News Service reported Monday that the nine were executed after a final review of the verdicts by the Supreme People’s Court, but it gave no specific date or other details. Earlier reports had identified those condemned as eight Uighurs and one Han.
The timing of the executions was not especially fast for China, which puts more people to death than any other country, an estimated 6,000 people in 2007. Politically sensitive cases are often decided in weeks, especially when they involve major unrest and threats to social stability.
Most executions are carried by shooting, although some provinces have begun using lethal injection.
China accuses U.S.-based Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer and other overseas Uighur rights groups of fomenting and stage managing the violence, but it has released no direct evidence.
Kadeer has denied the claim and criticized the violence, but she says the July fighting was a result of pent-up frustrations about discrimination and government efforts to subvert Uighur religion and culture. The government insists that Uighurs have benefited from Xinjiang’s rapid economic development, but activists say most of the benefits have gone to Han migrants who have flooded into the region in recent years.
Hard-liners among the Uighurs have long waged a simmering insurgency against Chinese rule, and Beijing has responded with harsh, high-pressure tactics to squelch occasional bombings, sabotage and assassinations.
A sizable number of young Uighur men have fled abroad to escape the repression, and American forces picked up 22 Uighurs in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001 on suspicion of terrorism. They were taken eventually to the prison at Guantanamo, where they were held without trial as “enemy combatants” before being ordered freed by a federal court that ruled they were not a threat.