Beijing (CNN) -- A Chinese court sentenced 55 people on terror charges before thousands of onlookers in a stadium in Xinjiang Province Wednesday, as part of a hardline response to a string of deadly attacks across the country.
The trial was held in a stadium in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in the restive western province of Xinjiang, before about 7,000 spectators, according to reports.
The accused were found guilty by the Higher People's Court of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of charges including intentional homicide, separatism, and organizing, leading and participating in terrorist activities.
Three of the accused were sentenced to death, state media reported, for the murder "with extreme cruelty" of a family of four in Yining City, using blades and axes, on April 20. The court named one of those sentenced to death over the attack, whose victims included a three-year-old girl, as Abulimiti Abdullah, state media reported.
Pictures from the sentencing showed the accused held on the back of pick-up trucks, dressed in orange jumpsuits and surrounded by security forces. A banner across the back of the stadium read: "Yili Prefecture Public Judgment, Public Seizure, Public Arrest General Assembly."
Li Minghui, vice-secretary of the prefectural Communist Party committee, vowed to strike hard against terrorists.
"We have the confidence, resolution and capability to take a firm stance, form an iron hand and hit hard and fast like a thunder to vanquish the enemy's arrogant audacity," he was reported as saying.
"We will achieve the final victory of this war of the people to stop terrorism and maintain stability."
'Deplorable' show trial
Human rights organization Amnesty International called the proceedings a show trial, labeling it "deplorable" and saying it was no way to address public security concerns in the wake of the violence that has spread from the province. Most of those sentenced were believed to be Uyghurs, it said in a statement.
"Those responsible for the recent violent attacks have shown a callous disregard for human life and must be held to account. But speedy show trials will not deliver justice for the victims," said William Nee, Amnesty's China researcher.
"Hastily sentencing people after unfair trials will only exacerbate tensions."
He said Chinese authorities appeared "more concerned with courting public opinion than justice."
"It is highly doubtful the accused received fair trials," he said, adding that those sentenced were believed to be at risk of torture in detention.
Spate of terror
The trial follows a spate of terror attacks in public spaces across China linked to Xinjiang's Uyghur population, a mainly Turkic-speaking Muslim minority.
The latest bout began when a jeep plowed into crowds in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in October, killing five and injuring at least 40, and have intensified in recent months.
Twenty-nine people were killed and 130 injured when men armed with long knives stormed a train station in Kunming in March. The following month an attack on a train station in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital, left three dead, including the attackers, while an attack on an Urumqi market earlier this month killed at least 39.
In response, police in Xinjiang launched a crackdown on extremist groups in the province, arresting 200 suspects and seizing hundreds of explosive devices, Chinese state media reported this week. The state's anti-terrorist force has been beefed up in Xinjiang, and security tightened around the country.
Some Uyghurs have expressed resentment towards China's Han majority in recent years over what they say is harsh treatment from Chinese security forces and Han people taking the lion's share of economic opportunities in Xinjiang.
Amnesty said Uyghurs face widespread discrimination, including in employment, housing and educational opportunities, as well as curtailed religious freedom and political marginalization.