More than 200 suspects have been formally arrested to face prosecution on charges of being involved in the deadliest riot in Xinjiang in 50 years, China Daily learned yesterday.
The arrests pave the way for the trials, which are expected to start this week in the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in Northwest China.
Earlier this month, police said 83 people had been formally arrested.
The charges include vandalizing public property, organizing crowds to cause bodily harm to others, intentionally causing bodily harm to others, robbery, murder, arson, vandalizing public transport, and organizing crowds to disrupt public order and traffic.
An Urumqi procuratorate official, who declined to be identified, told China Daily that most of the arrests were made in Urumqi and Kashgar, a southern Xinjiang city with a heavy concentration of Uygur people.
Police said 718 people had been detained for taking part in the July 5 riot, in which 197 people were killed and more than 1,600 injured.
During the riot, predominantly Uygur rioters armed with batons and bricks smashed shops and vehicles while beating passers-by, after a protest against attacks on Uygur workers at a factory in South China in June. Two days later, some Han people retaliated against the Uygurs.
Local police said last week they had gathered more than 3,000 new items of evidence to be used during the trials.
Among the 3,318 items of physical evidence collected are bricks and clubs stained with blood. They also include 91 video clips and 2,169 photographs.
As Urumqi gears up for the trials, security near Urumqi Intermediate People's Court, the venue for the trial, and its surroundings is at the highest level, a police source said.
The source said armed police, along with security guards and bailiffs, have been conducting around-the-clock patrols in the area.
"This operation has been ongoing for more than 10 days," the source told China Daily.
A drastic increase in security is expected in the whole city in response to an expected mass gathering of Han and Uygur people awaiting the court verdicts, the source said.
Although tension will be mounting, the source forecast little chance of new friction in the city.
"We have received no notice, but once the trial begins, we will be watchful if anything goes wrong," said a security guard.
"I can understand why the security is so tight," said Guo Mei, a saleswoman who works near the court.
"Many bereaved Han families will come to wait for the verdicts, and the authorities fear they may clash with any Uygur in their presence."
Another worker at the store added: "I'd be very angry if those rioters receive light sentences or escape justice. They should be given harsh penalties for causing the loss of so many innocent lives."
The Beijing-based Legal Daily earlier reported that several panels have already been set up in Urumqi Intermediate People's Court in preparation for the trials.
The panels are composed of three to seven judges, the number of which must be odd. In case of differing opinions, the majority's is adopted.
The High People's Court of Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region has selected and trained dozens of judicial personnel for the trials to ensure great exactitude when handling the cases, according to the Legal Daily report.
More than 170 Uygur and 20 Han lawyers have been assigned to the suspects; the trials will be carried out in their native languages.
Except for the trials related to charges of splitting the State and instigating to split the State, all other trails will be public.
"For Han suspects who 'overreacted' to the deadly riot on July 5, when mainly Han residents died, they should be granted leniency by the judge," said a Han shopkeeper who refused to be identified.
Mayira, a Urumqi resident, expressed hope for a fair trial for the Uygur suspects.
Another Uygur resident, Mehriban, said: "Many people were simply fooled and instigated by Rebiya Kadeer; I hope people will see the truth more clearly after the trials - the truth that we Uygur people can't live without Han and Han can't live without Uygurs.
"Personally, I wish people would learn to put down their guard whenever I board a bus or appear in public places; we Uygur people hope for peace and prosperity as much as any other ethnic group." Source: China DailySpecial report: Urumqi Riot