Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have detained seven ethnic minority Uyghurs after police raids confiscated DVDs featuring exiled Uyghur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer, whom Beijing has blamed for ethnic violence.
Police in the prefectural capital of Gulja (in Chinese, Yining) had recently stepped up raids and searches in a Uyghur city known as a traditional center of opposition to Beijing’s rule, according to Kadeer's group, the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC).
"The Chinese government has recently stepped up its alert level in Gulja, as well as tightening security checks," spokesman Dilxat Raxit said on Wednesday.
"Last week, the authorities discovered some DVDs of Rebiya Kadeer's film, "The 10 Conditions of Love," in the city," Raxit said, referring to a 2009 documentary about Kadeer's life by Australian writer, director, and producer Jeff Daniels.
"This sparked off great consternation for the authorities."
He said police had stepped up house-to-house searches both in Gulja city and in the surrounding prefecture.
"According to our information, the police and the state security police carried out all-day checks on Dec. 1 on Xinhua East Road," Raxit said.
"They confiscated several thousand DVDs, and detained seven people, four of whom were detained by the state security police," he said.
"Three others were detained in the Panjin police station, accused of hiding subversive DVDs and illegally selling religious recordings."
Blamed for riots
Beijing has blamed Kadeer and the WUC for instigating ethnic riots which enveloped the regional capital, Urumqi, starting on July 5, 2009. State media said nearly 200 people died in the violence.
Many Uyghurs say they are unhappy with Chinese rule in Xinjiang, saying they have seen few of the economic benefits enjoyed by the booming population of Han Chinese migrants to the region.
Uyghurs have also complained in recent years of growing interference in their religious life, with government controls on their participation in the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Uyghur children banned from mosques, and controls on the wearing of veils for women and beards for men.
A police officer who answered the phone at the Panjin police station in Gulja confirmed in part that the raid had taken place.
"Yes," the officer replied, when asked if police were currently cracking down on illegal religious DVDs. But he declined to give further details.
"I can't answer that," he said, when asked how many DVDs had been seized, and whether or not anyone had been detained.
A Han Chinese resident of Urumqi surnamed Wang said controls in the regional capital remained tight, more than two years after it was rocked by days of ethnic violence.
"They are never done raiding this stuff," he said. "They are always raiding the [ethnic Uyghur] Erdaoqiao market area."
"They say that these are illegal propaganda video materials," Wang said. "They had a huge raid on Rebiya Kadeer's 'The 10 Conditions of Love.'"
He said the consequences could be serious for anyone caught with the discs.
"This isn't just a question of getting a fine," Wang said. "They treat it as a political issue."
"I think they want to stop it getting to the point where every home has a copy."
He said Kadeer's film is popular in Uyghur neighborhoods of the city. "She has a market here, because she is held in very high esteem by Uyghurs."
"Most Uyghurs would know the documentary ... As long as there are people wanting to buy it, there'll be people selling it," Wang said.
But Raxit warned that suppressing Uyghurs through police raids could lead to worse consequences.
"Once again, we call on Beijing to end its systemic policies of repression, in order to avoid even greater turmoil in future," he said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.