BEIJING – China has launched a new campaign to search houses of Uighur Muslims in the north-western Xinjiang province, a move as a new sign of religious and cultural repression of the sizable minority.
"According to arrangements made by relevant departments at higher levels, our joint residential police bureaus will be inspecting all buildings in residential and family compounds," said a police notice posted in Hetian's Gujiangbage quarter cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"If there are families that do not open their doors, and do not cooperate with the inspection, we will force our way in, any resulting consequences will be the responsibility of the residents,"
Police at the Gujiangbage bureau confirmed the searches.
"Most people are cooperating, but some people are not," one policeman told AFP.
"I am not aware of any police forcefully entering homes," he said before abruptly hanging up.
The searching campaign follows a clash at an Islamic school that left at least 12 children injured.
According to Hetian police, 12 children were injured when "criminal suspects" ignited an incendiary bomb when police stormed the Gujiangbage Islamic school on June 6.
Three suspects were arrested, the police said at the time.
But the exiled Uighur community disputed the official version of events, citing sources on the ground as saying police tossed tear gas into the school.
A spokesman for the World Uighur Congress, a German-based exile group, said the school was teaching the holy Qur’an.
“Authorities used tear gas causing injuries on both sides,” said the group's spokesman Dilxat Raxit.
China claims it faces an organized terrorist threat from radicals in Xinjiang, but Uighur activists say citizens are angry at Beijing's heavy-handed rule in the region.
The Chinese government only permits a small number of licensed religious schools and has recently stepped up a campaign against unlicensed schools in Xinjiang.
Nine men were sentenced to jail for between six and 15 years last month in Kashgar for charges related to illegal religious teaching.
But Uighur Muslims said that the campaign is a new sign of religious and cultural repression of the minority.
"The searches in Hotan (Hetian) are consistent with recent examples of the use of force to crack down on peaceful Uighur activities deemed outside of state control," the US-based Uyghur American Association (UAA) said in a statement cited by AFP.
Xinjiang and its Uighur Muslims, a Turkish-speaking minority of more than nine million, continue to be the subject of massive security crackdowns.
It has been autonomous since 1955 but continues to be the subject of massive security crackdowns by Chinese authorities.
Muslims accuses the government of settling millions of ethnic Han in their territory with the ultimate goal of obliterating its identity and culture.
And analysts say the policy of transferring Han Chinese to Xinjiang to consolidate Beijing's authority has increased the proportion of Han in the region from five percent in the 1940s to more than 40 percent now.
Beijing views the vast region as an invaluable asset because of its crucial strategic location near Central Asia and its large oil and gas reserves.
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