Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang are continuing to punish those who hold "unauthorized" religious events during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, according to an exile group.
As Muslim Uyghurs entered their third week of dawn-to-dusk fasting and prayers, a spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress said that authorities in the southern Xinjiang city of Aksu had detained seven people for "illegal religious activities" and fined nearly 100 for unauthorized study of the Quran.
Authorities in Aksu's Cheku county staged a number of raids since the beginning of August, detaining seven Uyghurs for "incitement to illegal gathering and illegal recitations of the Quran," spokesman Dilxat Raxit said in an interview.
He said that nearly 100 Uyghurs--including women and children--had been fined between 50 yuan (U.S.$7.80) and 3,000 yuan (U.S.$471) for studying the Islamic holy book in unauthorized sessions since Ramadan began at the end of July.
"During Ramadan, the authorities have been targeting Uyghur people's beliefs in an increasingly provocative manner," Raxit said.
"This will cause greater friction leading directly to more unrest."
He said that authorities in Cheku county alone had reported four cases of "illegal religious activities" linked to 187 illegal religious publications and 35 media disks on official websites.
"Officials at a number of local government departments that we contacted have denied the detention of Uyghurs in Cheku county or the fining of almost 100 people," Raxit said.
He added that security personnel in military uniforms had detained 22 Uyghurs at checkpoints set up on national highways near the Silk Road cities of Kashgar and Hotan in the first week of Ramadan.
Meanwhile, Raxit said his group had received reports of 13 Uyghurs from Aksu and Kashgar being detained in the regional capital Urumqi in the first week, with a further two detained in Kasgar's Maigaiti county for carrying unauthorized religious materials that "harmed China's unity" in the second week.
Calls to the Cheku county police department went unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
He said that curbs remained on Uyghurs in Urumqi, which recently saw heightened tensions around the third anniversary of deadly ethnic riots in July 2009.
He said mosques in Urumqi were being guarded inside and out by armed security personnel, and that Muslims attending Friday prayers had to show identity cards on entering and leaving the mosques, as well as submit to searches by armed guards.
He said the city's mosques were closed up at all other times.
An official who answered the phone at the Xinjiang regional minority religious affairs department said that no-one was banned from studying the Quran, and they wouldn't be fined for doing so.
"No-one is fined for studying the Quran," the official said. "They can read it as and when they want."
But he appeared to imply that Uyghurs were limited to reading religious materials approved by the government.
"The Quran is fine, and religious materials that have been published according to regulations are fine too," the official said.
However, an official who answered the phone at a mosque in Urumqi denied that the mosques were closed except for Friday prayers.
"That's not the case," the official said. "They are open and operating all day."
"There aren't any security people here, and there are five prayers every day."
However, an announcement on the Tianshan district government website detailed a number of security measures aimed at "preventing criminal elements from harming national security and stability" on the third Friday prayers of Ramadan on Aug. 3.
It said the government would be targeting anyone who used religious activities "to incite [the public] mood, or to create social conflict," and called on district officials to "carry out propaganda work in support of harmony and stability inside places of worship."
In the Tianshan district's Wulabo community, teams of officials had been sent to carry out spot checks on mosques in the district, and to register the names of anyone coming in or out, checking their bags for fear of terrorist attacks, the report said.
Uyghur civil servants and members of China's ruling Communist Party have long been banned from fasting during Ramadan, which is due to end in the three-day feast of Eid al-Fitr around Aug. 20 this year.
The authorities, wary of instability and the threat to the ruling Chinese Communist Party's grip on power, often link Uyghurs in Xinjiang to violent separatist groups, including the Al-Qaeda terror network.
In October, Xinjiang courts sentenced four Uyghurs to death for violence in Kashgar and Hotan in July 2011 which left 32 people dead.
Uyghurs say they are subjected to political control and persecution for seeking meaningful autonomy in their homeland and are denied economic opportunities stemming from Beijing's rapid development of the troubled region.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.