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. 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.
The July 5 violence in western China began after police broke up a demonstration by Uighur students demanding an investigation into a deadly fight at a factory in the southern Chinese city of Shaoguan in which Han workers killed two Uighurs. The Uighur crowd then rampaged through the western city’s southern neighborhoods, hunting down Han residents, smashing vehicles and burning Han shops.
Two days after the riot, Han vigilantes stormed into Uighur neighborhoods. The official death count is 197 with 1,721 injured, most of them Han, although Uighurs say many on their side remain unaccounted for.