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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 11:07 GMT
China 'cracks down on Muslims'
Ethnic minority women in China
Amnesty says thousands of Muslims have been arrested
China has been taking advantage of the US war against terrorism to make sweeping arrests of its restive Muslim population in the far west, according to Amnesty International.


Although hardly any 'terrorist' acts have been committed in the XUAR (Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region) over the past few years, the authorities have detained thousands of people over the last six months

Amnesty International
The international human rights group said on Friday that thousands of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang have been detained since 11 September.

Small numbers of Uighurs have waged a low-level bombing campaign in the region in the last few years but Amnesty warns that many of those arrested may have done "little more than practice their religion or defend their culture".

A Chinese Government spokesman, while refusing to comment on the specific cases cited by Amnesty, dismissed the accusations as groundless.

Clampdown

"Although hardly any 'terrorist' acts have been committed in the XUAR (Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region) over the past few years, the authorities have detained thousands of people over the last six months, and imposed new restrictions on freedom of religion and cultural rights," Amnesty said.

"Some people have been sentenced to long prison terms and others have been executed," it said.

China claims that a large number of Uighurs have been trained in Afghanistan - which shares a short border with Xinjiang - and have close links with Osama Bin Laden.

But human rights monitors, including UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, are worried that China is using 11 September as an excuse to stamp on peaceful dissent.

Cultural pressure

By the end of 2001, 8,000 imams had been "trained" by the authorities to give them "a clearer understanding of the party's ethnic and religious policies," the rights group said.

Xinjiang province
Xinjiang shares a border with Afghanistan

It also reported that school pupils and officials have been pressured not to fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Amnesty's 33-page report echoes similar claims by other human rights reports but it is nevertheless likely to anger China, which was infuriated by the US report on its poor human rights record published last month.

Uighurs, who are Turkic speaking, are ethnically and linguistically distinct from China's Han majority.

Uighur separatists are campaigning for their own independent state, which would be called East Turkestan.

See also:

08 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
China's fearful Muslim minority
15 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
China separatists linked with terror
12 Nov 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
China's Muslims look on in anger
09 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese president 'rebuffs' Robinson
08 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Robinson warns China on repression
19 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Terrorism war unites Bush and Jiang
25 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Iran forges links with China's Muslims
30 Oct 01 | Americas
US criticised for 'secret arrests'
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