Beijing: A court in western China's Xinjiang region sentenced four men accused of jabbing a pedestrian with a hypodermic needle to prison terms of up to 15 years on Thursday, as authorities move swiftly to assuage public panic.
The men were the second group of attackers to be sentenced over the bizarre syringe attacks, which that have further raised public anxiety in Xinjiang, already on edge over July rioting that marked China's worst ethnic violence in decades.
Hundreds of attacks have been reported, although authorities say only a few dozen people have shown definite signs of having actually been jabbed with hypodermic needles. Instruments used in attacks have reportedly also included safety pins and even tooth picks, and no serious injuries have been reported.
China's Public Security Minister has called the attacks an organised terror plot orchestrated by the same Muslim separatists blamed for July violence between Han Chinese and Uighurs, a minority Muslim ethnic group native to Xinjiang. No evidence has been shown to back up the government's claim.
The sentences handed down by the Intermediate People's Court in Urumqi came five days after a first batch of three accused needle assailants were sentenced to up to 15 years. All the convicted have been Uighurs. Victims were mainly Han.
Two of the men were given 15 years imprisonment, one 12, and the other eight over an attack in an underground pedestrian crossing on the morning of Sept. 3, state broadcaster CCTV said. The men were caught after being restrained by passersby.
The speed of the trials, and the high degree of publicity given to them, appears aimed at calming fear and anger that exploded into mass street protests earlier this month in which five people were killed.
Xinjiang remains tense despite the presence of a large number of paramilitary troops brought in after the July rioting that left almost 200 people dead and 1,700 injured.
The violence started when police cracked down on a group of Uighurs gathered to protest the deaths of two Uighurs at a factory in southern China. Uighurs then attacked Han, prompting revenge attacks two days later.
First Published: Thursday, September 17, 2009, 15:52