Nearly 400 people in China's volatile Xinjiang region, home to Uygur Muslims, have been punished for allegedly spreading jihad and rumours online, officials said on Wednesday as the country stepped up efforts to curb militancy.
The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has punished 256 people for spreading online rumours that jeopardised social stability, state-run Global Times reported on Wednesday.
Another 139 people were arrested for "spreading religious extremism, including jihad", China Daily reported.
Several people received admonitions, while 16 were put under criminal custody, Hou Hanmin, deputy director of the publicity department under the region's Communist Party, said.
Police in Xinjiang have handled an "increasing number of cases in which individuals have posted or searched for religious extremist content on the Internet during the past three years".
Some even plot "terrorist attacks online" and later put their plans into action, the source said, without giving the exact number.
China is battling Islamst militancy in Xinjiang where officials say the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an Al Qaeda affiliated group, has become active after riots between Uygurs and Han Chinese settlers in the last few years.
Uygurs protests growing settlements of Hans in the resource rich western province.
As US troops set to leave Afghanistan next year, China is more concerned about its likely fallout as Xinjiang shares borders with Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Afghanistan.
Officials say most people involved in the acts of extremism are not well educated and some of them are unemployed, and spread extreme religious ideas gaining thousands of followers, Fan Guanghui, an official with the region's public security department said.
A farmer in Hotan was detained after he uploaded 2GB of e-books about secessionism which were read 30,000 times, the Global Times said.
Local police in Kashghar, which borders PoK, said overseas hostile forces have never stopped infiltrating and inciting residents to take up extreme religious ideas through the Internet and that the online spreading has become a great threat to ethnic unity and social stability.
In Kashi, teenagers make up the majority of Internet users and have a greater chance of being exposed to extreme religious ideas, local police told Global Times.
Since July, a high school student in Kashi had uploaded a large number of audio and video files about extreme religious ideas and terrorism, which have been reviewed 5,100 times, it said.
"Online rumours and extreme religious ideas in multi-ethnic neighbourhoods can easily cause social conflicts and distort the real religions," Xiong Kunxin, an ethnic studies professor at the Minzu University of China, said.
China's state-run media earlier reported that Uygurs have fought in Syria's civil war alongside rebels.
In June, Xinjiang witnessed one of the deadliest clashes since 2009 when riots broke out between Uygurs and China's ethnic majority Han that left 200 people dead.
Nearly 46 per cent of Xinjiang's population is Uygur and 39 per cent Han, according to official statistics, but the latter largely dominate the economy.