A court in China’s Muslim majority Xinjiang region on Monday sentenced to death six men for their role in the July violence which claimed at least 197 lives and left more than 1,600 people injured.

The first round of trials began on Monday for the 108 suspects who have so far been charged in connection with the July 5 ethnic riot in Urumqi between Han Chinese and Uighurs, one of 55 minority groups in China which is native to the far western Xinjiang region. Of the 21 people who are standing trial this week for homicide, arson and robbery, six were given the death sentence and one was jailed for life. These were the first convictions over the violence.

Authorities did not say which ethnic group the seven convicted were from, but their names suggested they were all Uighurs. Abdukerim Abduwayit, Gheni Yusup, Abdulla Mettohti, Adil Rozi, Nureli Wuxiu’r and Alim Metyusup were sentenced to death by the Intermediate People’s Court in Urumqi. Tayirejan Abulimit, was given life imprisonment when he confessed to crimes of murder and robbery and assisted police in apprehending one of the suspects, the court said, according a report in State-run Xinhua news agency. Abduwayit had killed five people with a dagger and pipe wrench and had also set fire to a building, the court was told, while the others charged had beaten four people to death and looted shops. Prosecutors presented testimonies of witnesses, video evidence and autopsy reports.

Authorities have detained at least 825 people, mostly Uighurs, over the July riots. The government has said most of the 197 deaths were Han Chinese, China's majority ethnic group.

The trial has attracted much attention in China, with the July violence marking the biggest ethnic unrest China has seen in recent memory. Fourteen others will stand trial this week, while no date has yet been fixed for the rest of the 108 who have been charged with crimes. At least 700 others. mostly Uighurs, are still in detention.

On Saturday, a court in Guangdong sentenced to death a Han Chinese man for his role in the racial violence that is thought to have sparked the Urumqi riot. Two Uighur migrant workers were killed in a factory brawl on June 26 in southern China, over rumours that a Han factory worker had been raped. On July 5, Uighurs protested in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, calling for an investigation into the two deaths. Clashes soon broke out between protesters and police, and for two days, the city was engulfed by mass rioting.

Xinjiang, in China’s far west, has seen simmering tensions between Uighurs, the biggest ethnic group in the region, and Han Chinese, who have migrated to Xinjiang in large numbers as part of Beijing’s “Go West” drive to modernise the region.

Some Uighur groups say increasing disparities between local Uighurs and Han migrants is a reason for the unrest. The Chinese government has blamed exiled separatist groups such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which has in the past called for Xinjiang’s independence, for orchestrating the July riot.

The Chinese government has promised to “severely punish” those found guilty, and many will likely get the death sentence. The government has faced pressure over the unrest from both Han Chinese, who have called on authorities to tighten security, and Uighur groups, who have blamed restrictive government policies for creating disparities between the two groups.

Further unrest broke out in September over a spate of syringe attacks in Urumqi targeting Han Chinese. On this occasion, thousands of Han Chinese took to the streets, demanding government action. Li Zhi, the ruling Communist Party’s chief in Urumqi, was sacked in the aftermath of the protests.

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