Authorities in China's troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang are holding more than 20 people in a new crackdown on separatism mainly targeting the region's Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority, an exiled group said on Friday.
This winter's "strike hard" campaign began in mid-November in Aqchi Nahiyisi, in southern Xinjiang's Kizilsu Kyrgyz autonomous prefecture, according to Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress.
"Nearly 100 people have been detained," Raxit said. "Some of them are still being detained under criminal detention," he said, adding that several had also been freed.
Raxit said that more than 20 people were being held under criminal charges, while at least 10 had been freed on bail pending court hearings.
"Others are still being held in the detention center because they refused to pay fines," he said.
An officer who answered the phone at the county police department declined to comment.
"You will have to ask my superiors," he said. "Those are the rules."
"They know what is happening."
A resident of Aqchi said police had stepped up routine patrols and surveillance in the county town in recent weeks.
"Aqchi has a reputation, and it is always subjected to tight controls," the resident said.
"There are not so many people out and about at the moment, it's very plain to see."
"It's because the Chinese Communist Party has said it will crack down on the 'three forces,'" the resident said, referring to Beijing's campaigns against "separatism, terrorism, and splittism."
Raxit said that authorities in the northwestern region of Ili, which saw a bloody suppression of an uprising against Chinese rule in 1998, have recently been targeting the culture of Uyghurs, a Central Asian Turkic-speaking ethnic group, many of whom are unhappy under Chinese rule.
"The Chinese government has launched a clean-up campaign targeting audio-visual media being sold in the region," Raxit said.
He said the campaign was being coordinated by the Ili prefecture news and publishing bureau and the local police.
"They have confiscated more than 20,000 video CD disks which the government says are illegal," Raxit said.
"They are mostly focusing on those in the Uyghur language."
He said four Uyghurs had been charged by national security police with the possession and recording of illegal CDs containing "overseas enemy propaganda."
"Five people have also been formally detained for possession, recording, and distribution of religious education videos," Raxit said.
A Han Chinese resident of Ili said that authorities have not clarified exactly what is permissible in the lyrics of Uyghur songs, and that they are simply banning those they think might be problematic.
"The Communist Party has decreed a whole bunch of guidelines of stuff which isn't allowed, and then confiscated them," the resident said.
"It is all being decided entirely by them," he added.
An employee who answered the phone at a bookshop in Ili prefecture said the government has always confiscated illegal publications, however.
"If they haven't been published via legal channels, then the publications are definitely illegal," she said.
"It has always been this strict, ever since the violence began in this place. They have always maintained tight controls over publications by ethnic minorities," she added.
Meanwhile, in the Silk Road city of Kashgar, authorities had closed down a number of bookshops selling Uyghur books, Raxit said.
"In Yarkand county, the authorities have mounted a sudden and aggressive 'clean-up' operation," he said.
"They have also closed down a few printing houses and 76 bookshops selling religious books," he said.
Local sources said that authorities in Xinjiang are targeting any printed materials in Uyghur in this year's campaign.
"The printing houses and video production houses have all been informed that they will be closed down if they don't sign a 'responsibility agreement' with the police," the Kashgar source said.
"They are being made responsible for checking the contents of what they sell, and they will have to take the blame if there is a problem with any of the things they are selling," he added.
Raxit said Beijing's tactics show it has little interest in easing ethnic tensions in Xinjiang following the deadly ethnic unrest in July 2009 that left nearly 200 people dead, according to official figures.
"Instead, their campaign against printed and audio-visual media is robbing Uyghurs of their right to information," Raxit said.
The popular Uyghur website Uyghur Online said it had come under a denial-of-service attack—on Friday, one day after it re-opened following a similar attack last month, according to the Boxun news website.
The site's online host had been unable to cope with the attack, and had asked the editors to find another service provider, the report said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.