Chinese authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang have detained five ethnic minority Kazakhs for disseminating "terrorist audio and video" online.
A 37-year old Kazakh from Shihezi city, under the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, surnamed Wu was held under administrative detention on Nov. 1 for possessing "terrorist video" materials on a cell phone, while a Kazakh surnamed Zhu, 31, was held in the seat of Kumul (in Chinese, Hami) prefecture on Nov. 6 for "making comments that promote ethnic divisions," the regional branch of the Cyberspace Administration said in a statement on Monday.
A Kazakh identified only as A, age 26, and a Kazakh surnamed Ye, 36, were both detained in Sanji (Changji) city, in Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture, under administrative sentences, which can be handed down by police for up to 15 days without a trial, for "incitement to ethnic hatred" with comments on WeChat.
And a Kazakh surnamed Tuo, 26, from Altay (Aletai) prefecture was detained on identical charges over comments posted on WeChat.
Regional officials recently investigated 10 similar cases in which suspects were detained for "promoting, storing and disseminating text, images, audio and video related to terrorist violence, religious extremism, ethnic separatism and false rumors," the Cyberspace Administration said.
"Police have investigated and punished the relevant personnel in accordance with the law," it said.
Six Uyghurs were also detained on similar charges, apparently included from an earlier statement from the Cyberspace Administration that was reported by RFA in November.
Beijing blames some Uyghurs for a string of violent attacks and clashes in China in recent years, but critics say the government has exaggerated the threat from the ethnic group, and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for violence that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
The government has detained large numbers of Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities simply for posting religious videos not approved by officials, or for possessing Qurans, prayer mats and traditional clothing, all of which have been described as evidence of "extremism" by Chinese police in recent months.
Sources estimate that Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have detained hundreds of ethnic Kazakhs in recent months, freezing their bank accounts and assets pending "investigation," also for “extremist” behavior that includes normal Islamic practices.
'Monopoly on information'
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress exile group, said the aim of the anti-terror campaign appears to be to frighten ethnic minority groups away from using the internet at all.
"The Chinese government is using oppressive methods such as detention, arrest and other punishments to frighten Uyghurs away from the internet," Raxit said. "Their aim is to achieve a total government monopoly on the flow of information."
"At the same time, they are using these detentions as a form of high-profile propaganda to scare people away from using the internet to protect their legitimate rights," he said.
Local sources told RFA that many more people have been detained than has been reported by official news outlets.
Both Kazakhs and ethnic minority Uyghurs are being detained in “political study centers” in unprecedented numbers across the region.
The camps are formally known as "Professional Education Schools," and are renamed versions of the "Counter-extremism Training Schools," that once dotted the region, sources have told RFA's Uyghur Service.
The camps are in operation throughout Xinjiang and contain detainees from the Uyghur, Kyrgyz and Kazakh communities—all Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities in China—under policies introduced by hardline Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, sources have said.
Last month, Chinese authorities in Burultokay (Fuhai) county in Xinjiang's Altay prefecture, handed down a 16-and-a-half-year jail term to ethnic Kazakh official Manat Hamit on ethnic hatred charges, after finding audio files of Quranic recitations on his computer in April.
He was initially accused of "disseminating terrorism-related audiovisual material," and "incitement to racial hatred and to racial discrimination."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.