BEIJING – In a fresh crackdown on Uighur Muslims, the Chinese authorities have arrested scores of Uighur Muslim, accusing them of allegedly of promoting jihad online.
“Those Uighurs who were detained were expressing online their dissatisfaction at China’s dominance of their localities and systematic repression,” Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, told Reuters on Tuesday, October 8.
The Muslim rights activist was referring to the latest wave of arrests targeting the Muslim minority in the far western region of Xinjiang.
The arrests of 139 Muslim in Xinjiang were made over the past few weeks for “spreading religious extremism including jihad,” the China Daily said, citing an anonymous source.
“Our local public security bureaus are strongly cracking down on those who engage in illegal activities online,” the Xinjiang Daily newspaper said on Tuesday.
“Xinijang must not allow the internet to become a platform for crime.”
Police in Xinjiang have “handled an increasing number of cases in which individuals have posted or searched for religious extremist content on the Internet”, the Daily added.
Uighur Muslims are a Turkish-speaking minority of eight million in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
Xinjiang, which activists call East Turkestan, has been autonomous since 1955 but continues to be the subject of massive security crackdowns by Chinese authorities.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of religious repression against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang in the name of counter terrorism.
Muslims accuse the government of settling millions of ethnic Han in their territory with the ultimate goal of obliterating its identity and culture.
Analysts say the policy of transferring Han Chinese to Xinjiang to consolidate Beijing’s authority has increased the proportion of Han in the region from five percent in the 1940s to more than 40 percent now.
The Muslim activist rejected the Chinese authorities allegations, describing it as a “total distortion of the truth” aimed at blocking Uighurs from going online.
China’s goal “is to suppress Uighurs’ use of the internet to obtain information and express different points of view,” Raxit was quoted by AFP.
Some of those detained had filmed videos or started groups on an instant messaging site that spread allegedly “militant” religious ideas.
A farmer in the prefecture of Hotan was also arrested after he uploaded material that authorities said contained separatist content, which violates Chinese law.
The arrests are not the first in Xinjiang.
Last March, two dozen Uighur Muslims were sentenced up to life in prison on charges of separatism and plots to carry out “jihad” in the restive far western region of Xinjiang.
The courts said the accused used cell phones and DVDs “to spread Muslim religious propaganda”.
In December, a Xinjiang court sentenced three Uighurs to death and another to life in prison on charges of attempting to hijack an aircraft in June.
Chinese authorities have been imposing stifling restrictions on Uighur Muslims to practice their religion.
Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, was the scene of deadly violence in July 2009 when the mainly Muslim Uighur minority vented resentment over Chinese restrictions in the region.
In the following days, mobs of angry ethnic Han took to the streets looking for revenge in the worst ethnic violence that China had seen in decades.
Chinese authorities had convicted about 200 people, mostly Uighurs, over the riots and sentenced 26 of them to death.
Beijing views the vast region of Xinjiang as an invaluable asset because of its crucial strategic location near Central Asia and its large oil and gas reserves.