Chinese authorities have stepped up curbs on ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs in the wake of popular uprisings in the Middle East and calls for "Jasmine" rallies at home, an exile group said on Monday.
Tensions were running high in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, according to Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, where the authorities detained five Uyghurs in the regional capital, Urumqi, last Tuesday and Wednesday.
Uyghurs were also being refused permission to apply for passports, he said.
"One man [aged] 23 was detained ... on charges of 'endangering state security,' because the government accused him of keeping illegal DVDs," Raxit said.
"The other Uyghurs were detained on Feb. 23 for 'disturbing social order' and 'obstruction of public business' because they had gathered in downtown Urumqi.
"They were moved on by police, but four of them were detained during the process," Raxit said.
The call to emulate the spirit of the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia, which triggered uprisings elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East, was made on Internet sites banned in China three weeks ago.
Amid heavy online censorship, posts have repeatedly appeared calling for continuing Jasmine rallies in which people show up at specified sites in major cities across China to demand an end to official corruption and a more accountable government.
Raxit said the call for Jasmine rallies has had a profound impact on Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
"The Chinese authorities on the one hand are employing forcible surveillance measures, while on the other hand they are blocking any kind of news about the Jasmine revolutions, especially in the Uyghur language," he said.
He said any Uyghur applying for a passport since a 2009 major unrest was turned down automatically. The July 5, 2009 riots in Urumqi left nearly 200 people dead, by the Chinese government's tally.
"This is a very serious problem," Raxit said. "Basically if you are a Uyghur and you apply, you won't be able to get a passport at all."
Calls to the border control office of the Urumqi municipal police department went unanswered during office hours last week.
Urumqi-based Uyghur resident Abula said Uyghurs have found it impossible to get passports without official contacts to help them in the past two years.
"You have to get an endorsement from the neighborhood committee and from the local police station, then go to the police department," he said.
"All the applications are investigated by the national security police."
A second Uyghur resident of Urumqi said on Monday that the local government had been stepping up a negative propaganda campaign against exiled Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer in recent days.
"Most Han Chinese now believe that Rebiya Kadeer was the main ringleader [in the protests and ethnic violence of July 5, 2009]," he said. "They absolutely loathe her."
"They have been imbued with propaganda ever since July 5."
Authorities have recently launched a crackdown on "illegal" publications and DVDs in Urumqi's Erdaoqiao market, residents said.
"This is an area where Uyghurs from the south of Xinjiang come to do business," the Urumqi resident said. "Some of them are Hui Muslims, but there basically aren't any Han Chinese there."
Chinese authorities responded to calls for more pro-democracy protests for the second week in a row with a strong security presence in major cities on Sunday.
Reacting to anonymous online appeals for citizens to protest and press the ruling Communist Party for greater openness, hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes policemen turned out in areas designated as protest sites in Beijing and Shanghai.
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.