Urumqi (AsiaNews) - Police in the Chinese province of Xinjiang have arrested 139 people, all ethnic Uyghurs, for allegedly spreading jihad, the official China Daily reported. The wave of arrests began in late August and concerned people who used the Internet "inappropriately". A farmer in Hotan was detained after he uploaded e-books about secessionism.
Beijing confirmed the arrests, pointing to violent incidents in the region to indicate a rising militant threat among the ethnic minority, as evidenced by the fact that many Uyghurs, it claims, fought in Syria's civil war and then returned home to put their militant experience into practice. These allegations, however, have not been backed by evidence.
Dilshat Rexit, a spokesman for the overseas-based World Uygur Congress, which Beijing deems a separatist group, said that the claims were a "total distortion of the truth" aimed at blocking Uyghurs from going online.
Those who were detained had only "expressed discontent with Chinese rule and systematic repression in the area", he explained. For him, China's goal "is to suppress Uyghurs' use of the Internet to obtain information and express different points of view".
Xinjiang province is one of the most turbulent in all of China. It is the homeland of ethnic Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim people that has always sought independence from Beijing.
The central government has sent hundreds of thousands of Han Chinese to the region to try to make them the dominant ethnic group. It has also imposed serious restrictions on freedom of religion, Muslim practices, the teaching of the indigenous language and the local culture.
Since 2009, a special system of Chinese police and army control has been in place, imposed by Beijing after the riots in which nearly 200 people lost their lives. As a result of the violence, hundreds of people were detained and dozens were sentenced to death.
Chinese authorities have blamed the violence on Muslim extremists, but exiles claim that Beijing is "exaggerating" the threat of Islamic terrorism to justify the repression against the Uyghur people.