A Muslim man carries a prayer rug as he arrives at the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The increasingly strict curbs imposed on the mostly Muslim Uyghur are now being extended to the minority Kyrgyz group, according to sources. (Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP)
Authorities in China's Xinjiang region are increasingly persecuting the small Muslim Kyrgyz minority by sending them to re-education centers for "religious violations," a source in neighboring Kyrgyzstan says. The ethnic group is facing similar restrictions placed on the region’s ethnic majority Uyghurs, the Kyrgyz source, who wished to remain anonymous told Radio Free Asia.
The Kyrgyz are a Turkic people who make up less than one percent of Xinjiang's estimated 21.8 million people, and are largely concentrated near the border with Kyrgyzstan in the region’s Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture.
The ethnic group had enjoyed relative autonomy under the Chinese until a new communist party chief was appointed last year and cracked down on the religious freedom of Uyghurs. The Kyrgyz are now targeted by authorities as part of the religious restrictions, he said.
"The persecution of Uyghurs by the Chinese government is by far the worst," the source told RFA.
"But the same kind of persecution is increasingly happening to the Kyrgyz people as well. In recent months, many young Kyrgyz were arrested by the Chinese government." Restrictions began last year when Chinese authorities began confiscating their passports to prevent freedom of movement across the border with Kyrgyzstan.
"Then, many were rounded up and sent to what are called 're-education centers' — but nobody knew what had happened to them, because nobody was allowed to see them," the source said.
"A lot of Kyrgyz were arrested for growing beards, praying, or even owning a prayer rug or Quran in their homes. Some were sentenced anywhere from five to 17 years in prison. Women more than 60 years of age were given sentences of three to four years," he added.
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