BEIJING, May 12 – Police in China’s Xinjiang region, home to mainly Muslim Uighurs, have arrested more than 200 people over six weeks for “dissemination of violent or terrorist videos”, state media said Monday, amid a wave of train station attacks.
Police in the far western region, which is periodically hit by unrest, detained 232 people who “have circulated videos promoting terrorism through the Internet and on portable devices”, the state-run Global Times newspaper said, citing a Legal Daily report.
Xinjiang’s regional government announced a ban in late March on downloading, saving or spreading “terror-related” videos online.
The measure includes video and audio materials “advocating violence and terrorism, religious extremism and separation of ethnic groups”, according to the Global Times.
News of the arrests follows a series of violent incidents both inside and beyond Xinjiang which Chinese authorities have blamed on separatists from the area.
In April, assailants using knives and explosive devices struck at a rail station in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, leaving three dead – including two attackers – and 79 wounded.
And in March, 29 were killed and 143 wounded in a horrific knife assault at a railway station in the southwestern city of Kunming, which some Chinese media have dubbed the country’s “9/11”.
Beijing says groups including the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) and East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), influenced by Al-Qaeda, have inspired and even orchestrated violence in China from Central Asia, which borders Xinjiang.
Some experts, however, question the influence of the TIP, a shadowy organisation that has released videos praising attacks in China but has yet to explicitly claim responsibility for them.
Last week, a lone knifeman was shot and caught after a slashing attack that injured six people at a train station in the southern city of Guangzhou.
Rights groups say tensions in Xinjiang are driven mainly by cultural oppression, intrusive security measures, and immigration by majority Han Chinese – factors that have led to decades of discrimination and economic inequality.
Dilshat Rexit, a spokesman for the overseas-based World Uyghur Congress, criticised the tightening of controls on Internet use in Xinjiang.
Rather than fight terrorism, he argued, the move was geared toward “cracking down on Uighurs who are using the Internet to reveal China’s intolerable policies” in the region.
“The repression has led to an ‘Internet-phobia’ among Uighurs,” he said.
Beijing says its policies in Xinjiang have brought prosperity and higher living standards, and promotes the region as an example of different ethnic groups living together in harmony.