BEIJING (AP) — An overseas rights activist said Monday that authorities in China’s predominantly Muslim far west are closing unregistered Islamic schools and conducting house-to-house searches in a new security crackdown in the restive region.
The campaign under way for five weeks in the city of Hotan underscores Beijing’s persisting concerns about separatist movements in its Central Asian border province of Xinjiang.
While anti-government protests and a security clampdown in Tibetan areas have grabbed attention over the past year, China has also been battling unrest in Xinjiang, with a flare-up in violence last year that killed 33 people. Like the Tibetans, many of Xinjiang’s ethnic minority Uighurs have chafed under Beijing’s rule and restrictions on the practice of religion.
The clampdown in Hotan — once a jade-trading center on the Silk Road and still a bastion of Uighur culture — was meant to quash dissent before August’s anniversary marking communist troops’ entry to Xinjiang 60 years ago, the Germany-based World Uighur Congress said Monday.
A congress spokesman, Dilxat Raxit, said in an e-mail that armed police were making nighttime raids from house to house. At least seven religious schools have been shut and 39 people arrested so far, Raxit said.
The official Xinhua News Agency earlier this month reported that Hotan authorities had launched a campaign against “illegal religious activity” at the end of February and “had already achieved some initial success.”
“Officials uncovered some illegal religious activities, seized a large number of illegal books, handwritten materials, computer discs, audio tapes and other propaganda materials as well as bullets, fuses, explosive and flammable materials, and other weaponry,” it said.
A secretary with Hotan’s Communist Party Propaganda Department on Monday denied that any religious schools were closed, people arrested or bullets, explosives and other materials seized. But he confirmed that some illegal religious activity has been halted and illegal books, writings, computer discs and audio tapes had been confiscated.
He refused to give his name or any more information and referred calls to other departments where the phone rang unanswered or officials said they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The clampdown is consistent with previous efforts to target a resurgent Islam that the government says is fanning radical, violent separatism in Xinjiang. A year ago, several hundred Muslims staged a protest in Hotan that rights groups said was against a ban on women wearing headscarves but that the government said was incited by an overseas Islamic group.
Uighur separatists have waged a low-intensity campaign of sporadic bombings and assassinations for the past 20 years as social controls loosened along with free-market reforms and as more ethnic Chinese came to Xinjiang in search of work.
Last August, violence in Xinjiang killed 33 people, including 16 border guards slain when two attackers rammed a stolen truck into the group before tossing bombs and stabbing them.
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