Chinese authorities in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang have dismissed the imam of a local mosque, and are investigating two Muslim Uyghurs who worked there for listening to "illegal religious" audio materials, an exile Uyghur group said on Wednesday.
The move came as police and religious affairs bureau officials raided the mosque in Toksun county near eastern Xinjiang's Turpan city last week, confiscating audio CDs banned by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"The authorities removed the imam of the mosque from his position because they were listening to religious audio disks, and at least two people from this mosque were detained," Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), said in an interview on Wednesday.
The crackdown then spread beyond the mosque to encompass the mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghurs living in nearby Gulboyi village, he said.
"At least 100 people were detained for a short period of time; young men for wearing beards and woman for wearing veils," he said. "They were temporarily detained and sent for "education or issued with fines."
In all, 45 Uyghur youths were punished for wearing beards, while 37 women were sanctioned for wearing veils while 57 punishments were handed to women wearing traditional Islamic clothing, he said.
Those detained had received a variety of punishments, including education under detention. Many of the men had been forcibly shaved, while some women had had their veils removed, Raxit said.
He said security had remained tight in Toksun county following the crackdown.
Patrols stepped up
An employee who answered the phone at a guesthouse in Toksun's county town said police had stepped up their patrols of the area in recent days.
"Security here is extremely tight," the employee said. "They carry out very strict checks...and there are a lot of police patrols."
A second Gulboyi resident confirmed that tight restrictions on Uyghurs were in place throughout the region.
"They won't let them wear [beards or veils] anywhere nowadays," the woman said. "Some still do, but not so many now."
Raxit said the authorities had drafted in large numbers of armed police into Toksun county and Gulboyi township.
"They are limiting Uyghurs' activities, and also the leakage of any information regarding this," he said.
"The Uyghurs in this village and this county find this [raid] totally unacceptable, and any provocative move on the part of the authorities is likely to spark further backlash," he warned.
A man who answered the phone at the Gulboyi village police station's listed number said it was a wrong number.
And an employee who answered the phone at the village's Razak Karim Mosque declined to comment on the raid.
Many Uyghurs refer to Xinjiang as East Turkestan, as the region was brought under Chinese control following two short-lived East Turkestan republics in the 1930s and 1940s.
China has intensified a sweeping security crackdown in recent months in Xinjiang, where according to official figures about 100 people, mostly Uyghurs, are believed to have been killed over the past year for alleged links to terrorism and separatism.
Many Uyghurs complain that they are subject to political, cultural, and religious repression for opposing Chinese rule in the resource-rich region.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.