China sentences 12 to death for July attack in Xinjiang region

(REUTERS / Stringer)Policemen in riot gear guard a checkpoint on a road near a courthouse where ethnic Uighur academic Ilham Tohti's trial is taking place in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region September 17, 2014. Tohti, an economics professor who championed the rights of Xinjiang's Muslim Uighur people, was detained in January and is accused of promoting Xinjiang's independence from China. The Chinese characters on the red board in the background reads, "Xinjiang Spirit, love the country and Xinjiang, unite and dedicate, work hard and help each other, be open and advancing."

A court in China has sent 12 people to the gallows for their involvement in the July attack that left 96 people dead in the Xinjiang region, seen by many as the worst act of violence seen there this year.

Uighur exiles based overseas cast suspicion on the verdict, which also saw 15 others receiving suspended death sentences, saying security forces used heavy-handed means to restore order that led to the high death toll.

Citing a report from State broadcaster China Central Television, al-Jazeera news agency said the verdict was issued, nearly three months after one of the worst acts of violence in the area occurred.

In July, attackers stormed government buildings and police stations, wielding knives and axes. The simultaneous attacks in the government facilities claimed the lives of 37 civilians.

Security forces responded with heavy fire and killed 59 of the attackers who struck government buildings.

The sentencing of those convicted is part of a stepped-up campaign by authorities in China to further deter violence in Xinjiang province, a region inhabited by Uighur Muslims who are the minority there.

The Uighurs face cultural and religious repression from authorities, who accuse the Muslims of sparking the unrest in the region.

In June, assassins stabbed to death a top Muslim cleric thought to be supported by Beijing. Authorities managed to track down the murderers of Jume Tahir, and they were later sentenced to death for killing the imam.

Since June, China has issued death sentences to 40 suspects since June, including this latest convictions, with 21 executions announced publicly.

Xinjiang is a resource-rich region in China's far west near Central Asia.

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