HONG KONG—Chinese authorities have demolished a Uyghur mosque in remote and restive Xinjiang amid mounting tension over security ahead of the Beijing Olympics, according to a Uyghur exile group and local officials.
“The mosque was illegal in the first place,” a Uyghur government official said by telephone. Asked for details, he replied, “It’s difficult to talk about it. It falls under classified information. I cannot give you any detailed information.”
A village elder who asked not to be named said village youths had been gathering for Friday prayers at the mosque in secret, angering local officials.
“They reject these prayers at government-registered mosques,” the elder said.
The mosque was built in 1999, without a permit, 80 kms from the Upper Kumtagh village in Kalpin [in Chinese, Keping] county, he said, adding, “The mosque was illegal.”
Local authorities recently learned of the secret gatherings, he said, after “two members of the local youth community were arrested when they went to inner China to learn kung fu, and they talked about the Friday prayers.”
According to exiled World Uyghur Congress spokesman Dilxat Raxit, the mosque was targeted because it resisted pressure to publicize the Beijing Olympics.
The county government Web site said the mosque had been demolished because it was illegally built and has been conducting illegal religious activities. It also said those who violate religious laws and regulations will face punishment.Resistance to curbs
“China is forcing mosques in East Turkestan to publicize the Beijing Olympics to get the Uyghur people to support the Games [but] this has been resisted by the Uyghurs,” Raxit said in a statement distributed by e-mail.
Raxit said the mosque, which had been renovated in 1998, was accused of illegally renovating the structure, carrying out illegal religious activities and illegally storing copies of the Muslim holy book the Koran.Education campaign
The Web site also said local authorities have mobilized people from all walks of life to study Communist Party policy on ethnic minorities in a bid to curb the infiltration by separatists and terrorists.
This education campaign, the Uyghur official said, “has nothing to do with the Beijing Olympics. We are in a remote area and the demolition of the mosque has nothing to do with the Olympics.”
A primary school official in Kalpin county said Monday that the local education bureau had instructed every school to make and distribute Olympic-related pictures and artworks.Olympic torch
The Olympic torch relay passed through Xinjiang last week under tight security.
Residents were told to remain indoors with few exceptions and gatherings were banned. Foreign media were under tight controls, and large-scale traffic restrictions were also in place during the torch rally there.
Beijing has said it fears Muslim separatists may be planning “terrorist activities” around the Olympics, vowing to tighten security in the region, where anti-Beijing sentiment is rife.Six decades of tension
Both Tibetans and Uyghurs have chafed under Beijing’s rule for the last six decades, and Chinese authorities have faced persistent accusations of repression and abuse.
China has waged a campaign over the last decade against what it says are violent separatists and Islamic extremists who aim to establish an independent state in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which shares a border with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Beijing took the position that Uyghur groups were connected with al-Qaeda and that one group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), was a “major component of the terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden.” The ETIM has denied that charge.
Original reporting by Ding Xiao for RFA's Mandarin service. Service director: Jennifer Chou. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.