Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have closed down at least 200 places of worship and detained 129 Muslim Uyghurs in a security crackdown ahead of national parliamentary meetings in March, according to exile sources and official media.
The regional government recently launched a campaign against "illegal" religious activities, a campaign which overseas Uyghurs say targets their ethnic group.
"The Chinese authorities have launched an unprecedented clampdown on religious affairs in the region," said Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress.
"China has closed more than 200 places of worship in Hotan and detained 129 people, as well as issued fines to nearly 3,000 people," he said.
"Official media say that around 1,400 people were involved, but that they have detained 129 people formally."
Hotan was the scene of one of a number of violent incidents between Turkic-speaking Uyghurs and police to hit the region during 2011, with official news reporting the deaths of 14 Uyghur "terrorists" it said had taken several hostages and overrun a police station in the city.
Official media also reported a series of knife and bomb attacks in the Silk Road city of Kashgar.
On July 5, 2009, deadly riots between mostly Muslim Uyghurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi left 200 dead and 1,700 injured, according to state media.
More than 1,000 Uyghurs have been jailed and several thousand “disappeared” in the aftermath of the most deadly episode of ethnic unrest in China’s recent history, according to Uyghur exile groups.
Chinese officials have blamed Islamist extremists and "hostile overseas forces" for the violence and launched a two-month “strike hard” campaign in August which they said is aimed at “destroying a number of violent terrorist groups and ensuring the region’s stability."
Beijing has also accused exiled Uyghur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer of inciting unrest in Xinjiang, and police routinely punish anyone caught with printed or audiovisual material about her.
Raxit said that youths as young as 14 were punished in the latest campaign against unauthorized religious gatherings in Hotan.
"Nearly 3,000 people were given fines, among them a 14-year-old and a 76-year-old," he said. "A lot of them were parents whose children were studying the Quran."
"Apart from that figure of 1,400 people involved in the case, there were many more relatives who were fined and subjected to forced political re-education," Raxit said.
The practice of Islam is tightly regulated by the ruling Communist Party, which bans Uyghur children from mosques and controls everything about their worship, from the wording of sermons to "approved" interpretations of the Quran.
According to the authorities, study of the Quran in an unauthorized location constitutes an "illegal religious activity."
A report on the Hotan municipal government website said the latest raids formed part of "stability" work, and were aimed at guarding against "external enemy elements" and tightening controls on "risky elements" at home.
It said 214 "illegal" places of religious activity had been identified involving 1,478 people.
A further 1,498 people had been found to be wearing traditional Muslim dress, usually a reference to long robes and beards among men and veils for women, the report said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.