Chinese authorities in the troubled Xinjiang region have detained hundreds of suspects since launching a year-long anti-terrorism crackdown in May, official media reported, amid criticism that Beijing is pursuing "gangster justice" against ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs during the current holy month of Ramadan.
Xinjiang authorities declared a one-year crackdown on "violent terrorist activities" following the May 22 bombing at a market in the regional capital Urumqi that killed 43 people, including the four attackers.
Since then, police have busted more than 40 "terrorism groups," arresting more than 400 suspects, official media reported.
According to Beijing's Legal Daily News, around a quarter of the arrests came after tip-offs from informants or the general public.
Bomb-making equipment and explosives were seized during some of the raids, as well as "extremist religious propaganda" materials, the paper reported.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC) group, said the ruling Chinese Communist Party has stepped up its anti-terrorism rhetoric to coincide with the fifth anniversary of July 5 deadly ethnic riots in Urumqi and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"This is a form of ideological warfare against Uyghurs," Raxit told RFA's Mandarin Service on Tuesday.
"At the same time, it gives the international community the impression that China is cracking down on normal Islamic activities during Ramadan," he said.
Raxit said the arrest and charging of Uyghurs has become a well-tried path to promotion for many party and government officials, some of whom have long since emigrated overseas.
"The international community shouldn't stand by in silence and allow this to happen," he said. "They should oppose Beijing's gangster justice and judicial oppression."
"They might be able to prevent more Uyghurs from turning to even more extreme acts of violence, because they can't take it any more."
Security stepped up
China posted thousands of armed security personnel and citizen volunteers on the streets of Beijing and Urumqi ahead of Saturday's fifth anniversary of rioting that left nearly 200 people dead in ethnic clashes which the WUC says were sparked when police fired on unarmed demonstrators.
Fasting has been banned in Xinjiang's schools, ostensibly to safeguard the health of young people, and for all Muslims who work in an official capacity during Ramadan, which continues through most of July this year.
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said hotels and guesthouses in the capital have been ordered by police not to allow any ethnic Uyghurs to take rooms.
"I have spoken to a lot of police officers, and asked them why they won't let Uyghurs stay in Beijing hotels, and they deny it," Hu said.
"But when I asked the managers of the hotels, they said the police told them that Uyghurs are 'unstable elements,' and that they will be closed down if there are any problems arising in the future [involving Uyghur guests]," he said.
"Uyghurs are not welcome in these parts; they are being 'otherized' and treated as second- or third-class citizens, or as terrorists."
But he said the government's policy would likely alienate even more Uyghurs and drive them into direct opposition with Beijing.
The Legal Daily News said that police have launched a public informants scheme in major cities including Beijing, Wuhan, Chengdu and Shenzhen in which anyone giving information leading to the arrest of terrorists will be rewarded with 30,000 yuan (U.S. $4,800).
According to Hu, China's anti-terror campaign is exactly that: a politically motivated witch-hunt as opposed to a long-term strategic operation based on carefully gathered intelligence.
"They don't care if they kill 1,000 innocent people as long as none of the guilty escape," Hu said. "I'm sure a lot of those being detained are regular Uyghurs, and this is only going to deepen the conflict between the two ethnic groups."
China is reeling following a string of high-profile attacks blamed on militants in Xinjiang, the traditional home of the Uyghurs, who complain they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness.
On May 22, unidentified attackers plowed two motor vehicles into an open market in Urumqi and set off explosives, leaving 31 people dead and more than 90 injured and prompting authorities to launch a one-year anti-terrorism campaign in the region.
The death toll is believed to be the highest in Xinjiang violence since bloody riots in Urumqi in 2009 between Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese left almost 200 people dead.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.