Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have detained two ethnic minority Muslim Ugyhurs on charges of subversion and disrupting public order, as police in the region stop and search local people ahead of a sensitive political anniversary next week.
"The authorities detained two Uyghurs, charging them with 'incitement to split the country,' along with disrupting public order and violently resisting law enforcement," Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said on Tuesday.
He said the men were detained during a recent security crackdown near Renmin Lu in downtown Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital and the scene of deadly ethnic rioting which began on July 5, 2009 and left nearly 200 people dead, according to official figures.
"The Uyghurs hadn't brought their ID cards with them, although they had photocopies of their household registration documents," Raxit said, adding that they had allegedly been carrying pro-independence leaflets.
"Both sides got into an argument, and the security personnel, who were wearing military clothing, used violence and humiliation on the Uyghurs," he said.
Dilxat Raxit said the continuing security campaign was linked to Tuesday's anniversary of June 26, 2009 attacks on Uyghur workers by their Han Chinese colleagues at a toy factory in the southern city of Shaoguan and subsequent violence in Xinjiang known as the "July 5 Incident."
Days after the incident in Shaoguan, peaceful, student-led demonstration by Uyghurs in the Xinjiang regional capital of Urumqi in protest against the attacks escalated into full-scale ethnic rioting on July 5 that left at least 197 people dead, according to official figures.
Beijing blamed exile Uyghur dissident Rebiya Kadeer for inciting the violence, but Kadeer and the World Uyghur Congress have repeatedly said that Chinese police opened fire on unarmed Uyghur protesters.
In the run-up to the July 5 anniversary in Urumqi, the authorities have launched a regionwide security campaign, placing key cities like Urumqi and Hotan under round-the-clock controls, a resident surnamed Zhang said in an interview on Tuesday.
"They are forbidding women from wearing veils and men in traditional Muslim dress from going into supermarkets, malls, and hypermarkets," Zhang said.
"They are also checking everyone's bags, and forbidding anyone wearing religious-looking clothing from entering the market area and selling various kinds of illegal recordings and so on," he said.
Last week, authorities in the southern Xinjiang city of Hotan handed a 10-year jail term to an Uyghur man convicted of selling "illegal religious materials."
An employee who answered the phone at a shopping mall in Hotan said similar restrictions were being imposed there, too.
"It's fine if they are just wearing ethnic minority clothing, but no one is allowed in if their face is covered," the employee said. "Some shops allow them in, while others don't; it depends which one you go to."
"Right now everyone knows that things are very tense, and they are cracking down hard on this sort of thing."
Zhang said there is a far higher proportion of Uyghurs in southern cities like Hotan than in Urumqi.
"In Hotan the ... proportion of Uyghurs is about 96 percent ... and there are a lot more policies targeting Islam and Uyghur cultural traditions there," he said.
"In the past, they have had anti-beard campaigns, and they have forbidden people to read the Quran in public places," Zhang said.
Chinese authorities, wary of instability and the threat to the ruling Communist Party's grip on power, often link Uyghurs in Xinjiang to violent separatist groups, including the Al-Qaeda terror network.
In October, Xinjiang courts sentenced four Uyghurs to death for violence in Kashgar and Hotan in July 2011 which left 32 people dead.
Uyghurs say they are subjected to political control and persecution for seeking meaningful autonomy in their homeland and are denied economic opportunities stemming from Beijing's rapid development of the troubled region.
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.