Chinese authorities have fined three British geology students for “illegal map-making activities” in the politically tense Muslim region of Xinjiang, state media reported yesterday.
The Xinjiang Daily said the three students from Imperial College London had been researching fault lines in the remote western region, where anger against Chinese rule triggered deadly attacks last year.
China clamped down hard on the vast region following the unrest, which had led to fears of terror attacks on the Beijing Olympics in August.
China has in recent years placed stricter controls on data-collecting activities such as map-making across the country, with state media reports voicing fears that unauthorized maps could compromise state security.
The students, who were not named in the report, were fined a total of 20,000 yuan (US$2,940) but received no further punishment, the report said.
It said authorities confiscated their equipment in October after they were found collecting data in several areas, including Kashgar, the ancient Silk Road trading post where some of last year’s unrest took place.
Last month, state media said two Islamic “terrorists” were sentenced to death for an attack in the city just four days before the Olympics, which killed 17 police officers and injured 15.
Yesterday’s report said the students had also been in the desert village of Keping. Authorities in May razed a mosque in Keping over “illegal religious activities,” Radio Free Asia and an exiled Uighur group had said previously.
Those activities included failing to follow government propaganda on supporting the Olympics, the reports had said.
The students had permission from China’s Earthquake Administration for geological research, the Xinjiang Daily said, but noted that it had not been cleared with any other government departments.
“The data they gathered would have been valuable in analyzing mineral and topographic features of the areas,” it said.