Uighurs jailed for hypodermic attacks amid Chinese tension

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Three Muslim Uighurs have been jailed for between seven and 15 years for their role in a series of mysterious attacks using hypodermic needles that caused an outbreak of panic and civil unrest in the troubled Chinese region of Xinjiang.

The government claims the syringe attacks are a plot by separatists bent on destroying ethnic unity, even though many of the alleged assaults have not been substantiated.

Tens of thousands of Han Chinese took to the streets this month to protest that the government was not doing enough to protect their safety. More than 500 people in the city of Urumqi have reported being attacked, though only about 100 showed evidence of being pricked.

The needle assaults have ratcheted up tensions almost two months after riots left 197 dead and highlighted rifts between the Uighurs and the Han Chinese. None of the reported victims have suffered from illness or other effects. In one of the sentences, 19-year-old Yilipan Yilihamu was given 15 years after he injected a hypodermic needle into a woman's buttock at a roadside fruit stall. China Central Television said the teenager had no previous criminal record, and he plans to appeal.

In a separate trial, Muhutaerjiang Turdi, 34, and Aimannisha Guli, 22, were given 10 years and seven years in jail respectively. "The court verdicts were very accurate," said Xu Chun, a lawyer based in Urumqi, adding that the trials would aid "the recovery of the social order".

Many Uighurs say they are the victims of decades of Chinese oppression. The Chinese say they are bringing prosperity and stability to the resources-rich province.

In Hong Kong, hundreds of journalists, parliamentarians and residents marched to protest against the alleged police beatings of three reporters covering the Xinjiang unrest, and demanded a government investigation. The three said they were kicked, punched and shoved by police then detained for three hours.