This photo taken on April 19, 2015 shows Uyghur men walking into the Id Kah mosque for afternoon prayers in Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang region. Chinese authorities have arrested hundreds of Uyghur Muslims returning from overseas pilgrimages, according to a human rights lawyer. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP)
Authorities in China's Xinjiang region have detained hundreds of Uyghur Muslims after they returned home from pilgrimages overseas, sources say. Courts in the northwestern region are being told to "deal with" anyone engaging in any form of illegal religious activity, a human rights lawyer speaking on condition of anonymity told Radio Free Asia (RFA). "There is a huge crackdown in Xinjiang," the lawyer said. "In March, I went to lodge appeal proceedings, and I came across a detention center — the Changji Detention Center — where there were 200-300 Uyghurs being held after coming back from pilgrimage in the Middle East." "They were all being held for investigation and screening," he said. Communist authorities forbid anyone traveling overseas on pilgrimages, including to Mecca, with firms that have not received approval from China's religious affairs officials, according to Article 21 of the "26 Forms of Illegal Religious Activity," a list seen by RFA in February. It looks like the authorities are going after anyone breaking any of the rules on the list, the lawyer said. "The judge told us [lawyers] that there has already been a case involving a Uyghur who held a gathering in his home," the lawyer told RFA. "It was winter, just after Chinese New Year, and there was nothing happening, so he held a religious gathering for Muslims." "The judge said the trial has already taken place, and they are waiting to sentence him," he added. Article 4 on the list forbids "Any preaching, Quranic interpretation or gathering run by religious figures or religious believers, without prior approval, outside the place of worship pertaining to that religion." Article 3 meanwhile bans "any religious activity organized by persons not in possession of the relevant permits for a religious personage or who have not undergone patriotic education."
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