China sentences 55 prisoners - in front of a packed stadium holding 7,000 spectators

The public rally was part of the country's nationwide anti-terrorism operation following a series of deadly attacks

China has carried out a mass sentencing of 55 people – handing out at least three death penalties – in front of 7,000 people at a packed sports stadium, state media reported.

Local officials in the country’s western Xinjiang region held the public rally on Tuesday, passing judgements for crimes such as “violent terrorism”.

The public sentencing, carried out at a sports stadium in Yining city in the northern region of Yili, was reminiscent of China’s revolutionary era rallies and is a show of strength in the face of a spate of bloody attacks. 

Images show thousands of people in the stands overlooking trucks parked on the sports field that are loaded with prisoners in orange vests and guarded by armed police.

The mass trial follows a similar event last week in the region where 39 people were jailed on terrorism charges.

China is waging a year-long anti-terrorism operation nationwide following a series of attacks – but it has focused on Xinjiang, home to a large Muslim Uighur minority, after a series of bloody attacks that Beijing blames on Islamists and separatists from the region.

The latest bunch of prisoners were sentenced for crimes including intentional murder, separatism, and leading or participating in terrorism groups, People.cn, the website associated with the ruling Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, said on Tuesday night.

Li Minghui, the regions deputy Party secretary, said the public sentencing made clear the determination of the ruling Communist Party to clamp down on “violent terrorism, separatism and religious extremism”.

"[We] must resolutely strike criminals ... and boost the confidence and will to fight for all ethnicities among the masses," Li said.

A paramilitary policeman stands guard near trucks carrying criminals and suspects during the mass sentencing rally A paramilitary policeman stands guard near trucks carrying criminals and suspects during the mass sentencing rally The rally was originally reported by the official Xinhua news agency, but links to the story appeared to have been taken down.

Beijing says separatist groups in Xinjiang are seeking to form their own state called East Turkestan, though experts dispute the influence and reach of the most prominent group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

Exiles and rights groups say the real cause of the unrest is China's repressive policies that put curbs on Islam and the culture of Uighurs, Muslims who speak a Turkic language. Uighurs have long complained of official discrimination in favour of the Han, China's majority ethnic group.

Individuals named in the report on the latest sentencing rally all appeared to have Uighur names.

China's leadership has been eager to reassure the public of stability in view of the recent deadly attacks.

Following a knife attack at a train station in the southwest China city of Kunming in March, which the government blamed on militants from Xinjiang, tourist traffic to the region had dropped 40 percent over the same period the previous year, China Radio International quoted Xinjiang's tourism administration chief Yinamu Naisierding, as saying.

He said the government is preparing to offer 500 yuan (£48) travel rewards for tourists, but gave no details.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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