BEIJING (AP) - A court in western China's Xinjiang region sentenced three people to up to 15 years in prison Saturday for a series of mysterious syringe attacks that led to mass protests against the local government.
The protests by tens of thousands of Han Chinese earlier this month said the government can't guarantee their safety. More than 500 people in Urumqi have reported being attacked, though state media said only about 100 showed evidence of being pricked.
The Intermediate People's Court in the regional capital, Urumqi, sentenced 19-year-old Yilipan Yilihamu to 15 years for inserting a needle into a woman's buttock on Aug. 28, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
China Central Television said the teen was just about to start college and had no previous criminal record. He plans to appeal, the report said.
A 34-year-old man and a 22-year-old woman were sentenced to 10 years and seven years, respectively, for threatening a taxi driver with a syringe and robbing him of him of 710 yuan ($103) on Aug. 29. The two turned themselves in to police, CCTV said.
China National Radio said all three are members of the Uighur minority, a mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic group that is the largest in Xinjiang at 45 percent of the population.
The needle assaults aggravated tensions in Urumqi almost two months after riots in July left nearly 200 dead and exposed rifts between the Uighurs and the Han Chinese, the majority group in China that holds nearly all the important positions of power in Xinjiang.
None of the reported victims of the needle attacks have suffered from illness, poisoning or other effects.
Officials and state media have blamed both the rioting and the attacks on separatists bent on destroying ethnic unity.