China says 'rescues' more children from Xinjiang religious schools

Beijing - A sweep on illegal religious activity in the capital of China's unruly far western region of Xinjiang has resulted in 190 children being "rescued", along with the detention of dozens of people, a state newspaper said on Monday.

Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people who speak a Turkic language, has been beset for years by violence that the Chinese government blames on Islamist militants and separatists.

Hundreds have died in violence in Xinjiang in the past 18 months, prompting a sweeping crackdown by the government, including on religious activities.

Last month the government said it had "rescued" 82 children in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi from religious schools known as madrassas, and that campaign appears to be continuing.

The official Legal Daily said that in recent days there had been another sweep in Urumqi against the "three illegals" of illegal publicity materials, illegal religious activities and illegal religious teaching.

A total of 85 people have been detained and 190 children "rescued", the newspaper said, without providing further details.

Children in Xinjiang are prohibited by the government from attending madrassas, prompting many parents who wish to provide a religious education to use underground schools.

Exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists say the government's repressive policies in Xinjiang, including controls on Islam, have provoked unrest, a claim Beijing denies.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said that he feared more people would end up being caught up in the dragnet.

"China thinks that Uighurs who uphold their faith and use the Internet are a challenge to China's rule," he said in an emailed comment. "China's hostility will probably mean even more Uighurs lose their freedom."

Along with trying to limit the wearing items of clothing like headscarves and the growing of beards for men, Beijing has also come down hard on those within the country who have sought to challenge the official narrative of Xinjiang's unrest.

This week, prominent Uighur academic Ilham Tohti will be tried on separatism charges.

Tohti, an economics professor at Beijing's Minzu University who has championed Uighur rights, was detained in January. His case has attracted concern in the United States and Europe.