Chinese authorities in Inner Mongolia have detained at least two Uyghur youths who were planning to leave the country illegally, local sources said on Friday.
A copy of the arrest warrant issued by the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region police department named the nine men—all of whom appear relatively young from their photos—as Abliz Obul, Eli Turdi, Yusup Ghojiabla, Yasin Mettursun, Alimjan Metqasim, Obulqasim Memet and Adil Tohti.
An officer who answered the phone at the Hailiutu township police station in Urad Middle Banner (in Chinese, Wulatezhongqi) under the region's Bayannur city, confirmed that a warrant had been issued.
"[The arrest warrant was] issued by the autonomous region," the officer said. "It should be currently in effect."
But he declined to comment further.
"I don't know the details," he said, before hanging up.
A Hailiutu township resident contacted by RFA on Friday said "two or three" of the young men had already been detained, however.
"Yes, yes, they detained them," the resident said. "They got two or three, and there are still six they didn't get."
'Fleeing for their lives'
A spokesman for an exile Uyghur group said the young men were likely heading for the border with neighboring Mongolia when the warrant was issued, as Hailiutu township lies just 133 kilometers (82 miles) from the No. 703 border marker.
"My guess is that these Uyghurs on the arrest warrant were trying to flee for their lives and escape from China," Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, told RFA on Friday.
"This represents yet another escalation in the persecution of Uyghurs."
"China is hoping to use this arrest warrant to prevent these people from escaping across the border," Raxit said.
Uyghur exiles and rights groups have criticized Chinese authorities’ heavy-handed rule in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region—including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people—which they say has forced many to flee overseas.
More than 300 Turkic-speaking Uyghurs are being held in Thailand after fleeing Xinjiang, where an upsurge in violence, which China has blamed on terrorists and Islamist insurgents seeking to establish an independent state, has left hundreds dead since 2012.
Authorities have enforced security measures during the last couple of years in Xinjiang by cracking down on Uyghurs whom they accuse of terrorism and separatism, while extrajudicial killings of Uyghurs during alleged "terror attacks" are on the rise.
The millions of mostly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness, blaming the problems on Chinese officials who set policy in the region and the influx of Han Chinese into the area.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.