A court in China's far west Xinjiang region on Tuesday ordered two men, Rehman Hupur and Musa Hesen, put to death for their alleged part in a clash between police and local residents that killed 21 people in April.
Another defendant received life imprisonment for what Chinese authorities have called a "terrorist attack." The April 23 incident involved knives, axes and likely one gun, and left a house burned to the ground.
Five men in total — including two who received nine-year prison terms — confessed in court, according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency.
Musa was convicted of "murder, organizing and leading a terrorist group and illegally manufacturing explosives," and Hupur of "murder and participating in the terrorist group," the Chinese news site said.
Xinjiang has repeatedly suffered violence related to ethnic tensions between a large minority of ethnically Turkic Muslim Uighurs, who make up about 45 percent of the population, and majority Han Chinese residents.
In Urumqi, the region's capital in July 2009, clashes between the two groups killed about 200 people. In June 2013 another outbreak killed 35.
Beijing blames radical separatists for the unrest, while Uighur activists say the government has used heavy-handed rule to stifle their traditional way of life. A spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, Dilxat Raxit, told Reuters the April 23 violence began after "Chinese armed personnel" shot dead a young Uighur.
Much is still unknown about what happened that day and why, as it's difficult for independent journalists to work in the region. Reporters can travel there, but when the BBC visited not long ago and started to ask questions, authorities told them to leave.
However, the BBC's reporters said locals from Selibuya town — where the April clashes took place — told them officials had attempted to get men from one family to shave their beards, and women to stop wearing veils.