Ethnic minority Muslim high school students in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang have been expelled from their school for attending a mosque, a Uyghur website reported this week.
Two students of a high school linked to the Hangzhou Normal University were expelled after they were caught in Muslim prayer, the overseas Uyghurs Online news website reported.
"One of the students was from Ili prefecture, and the other was from Shache county," the report said.
"The school said that they had been engaged in illegal religious activities."
It said the majority of pupils at the 650-student high school were Uyghurs.
Calls to Hangzhou Normal University went unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said that authorities in the troubled northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region had sent a huge number of Uyghur schoolchildren to be educated in cities elsewhere in China in recent years.
Students who participated in the program were forbidden from any religious activity, including observing religious festivals.
The parents of a student who is found to be carrying out any kind of religious ceremony are typically fined, Raxit said.
He said the treatment of Uyghur youth was similar back in their homeland of Xinjiang, as well.
"Every year in Urumqi there are high school students who are expelled from school and their parents given steep fines," Raxit said.
"The reason is that they have attended religious activities at the mosque, or especially fasted during [the Muslim holy month of] Ramadan," Raxit said.
"These kids will definitely get expelled from their school."
Calls to the Urumqi municipal government religious affairs bureau went unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
An employee who answered the phone at the Xinjiang University students' building denied the claim, however.
"That doesn't happen here," the employee said. "Do you have a question? We are tidying up files here."
A Uyghur youth resident in Beijing said some schools would not exactly forbid Uyghur students from attending religious activities, but would not encourage it, either.
But he added that younger students were often prevented from taking part.
"When we go to prayers ... there are students there," he said. "The parents have to consider ... whether the child is too young to understand religion."
"They need to have some religious education before they understand it," he added.
Attack on traditions
Uyghurs, thought to number more than 16 million, are a distinct, Turkic-speaking, Muslim people living in northwestern China and Central Asia.
Exiled Uyghur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer, who came to the United States in 2005 after serving a prison term in Xinjiang for attempting to meet with a human rights delegation of the U.S. Congress, has accused Beijing of beginning a concerted attack on Uyghur traditions in 1987.
Uyghur activists say that Chinese curbs on the traditional Muslim culture of Xinjiang have left Uyghur youth in crisis, as the education system leaves them ill-equipped to cope in a Chinese-language system.
They say Uyghur children under 18 are forbidden by Chinese law from attending religious services or entering a mosque, and that hundreds of Uyghur youth now wander the streets of Xinjiang's cities and towns, often tempted by drugs or falling into the hands of traffickers.
According to Chinese government statistics, the Han Chinese population of Xinjiang increased from just six percent of the total in 1949 to 40 percent in 2005, with Han Chinese benefiting disproportionately from government schemes to boost the economy.
In the relatively prosperous regional capital, Urumqi, ethnic Uyghurs have gone from comprising 80 percent of the population to just 20 percent over recent decades, which has spurred further resentment among Uyghurs.
Experts say official data underestimate the Han population by excluding thousands of "temporary" Han workers on long-term assignments in the region.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.