China jails five clerics for organizing Mecca trips, group says

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Jun 24, 2008, 5:21 GMT

 Beijing - A court in China's far-western region of Xinjiang has sentenced five Muslim clerics to seven years in prison for illegally organizing haj pilgrimages to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the World Uighur Congress said on Tuesday.

The five Uighur clerics were also charged with illegally providing copies of the Koran at a recent sentencing rally in Xayar county, near Xinjiang's Aksu city, Dilxat Rexit, the Munich-based spokesman of the congress, said in a statement.

More than 300 people attended the rally organized by the County People's Court in Xayar, which is known as Shaya in Chinese, Dilxat Rexit said without giving the date of the event.

The group's report could not immediately be confirmed.

China's ruling Communist Party retains control over all religious activity and mosques must register with the state-run Islamic Association and use state-approved copies of the Koran.

It also requires haj pilgrimages to be arranged through state-approved religious organizations.

In a separate report on Monday, the World Uighur Congress said authorities in Aksu's Kalpin county had demolished a mosque which refused to hang slogans supporting the Beijing Olympics.

State media said that about 100,000 Chinese people completed pilgrimages to Mecca from 1985 to 2006.

An annual record of 10,000 Chinese Muslims were sent to Saudia Arabia from November 2006 to January 2007, reports said.

China officially has 21 million Muslims, about half of them from the Hui group which predominates in poor north-western areas but is spread across the country.

Some 7.5 million Uighurs, most of whom are Muslims, form the largest minority in Xinjiang.

Amnesty International and other rights groups have accused the government of launching a 'political re-education campaign' for imams in charge of mosques in Xinjiang following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.