RUNNING ON XINJIANG TIME
Though a part of China, many areas in Xinjiang feel a world away from the booming and cosmopolitan cities on the Chinese coast, far to the east.
In Kashgar, a city close to the Pakistan and Afghan borders, some women not only cover their heads, but also veil their faces. In some cases, dark brown cloths envelope the whole head.
Clocks in many mosques, restaurants, cafes and shops are set to Xinjiang time. This is two hours behind Beijing time, the official standard for the entire country, which means China's sun does not set until after 10 p.m. in Kashgar in the summer.
Exiled groups and human rights campaigners have long chastised China for its religious restrictions. The government hits back and says it guarantees freedom of religion in its constitution, as long as believers respect the law.
Many are not convinced Hizb ut-Tahrir is the threat the Chinese government says it is in Xinjiang.
"This does not exist. They have come up with this group's name themselves," said Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress. "They are trying to mislead the world and deflect from concern for the Uighur people."
For its part, Hizb ut-Tahrir denies it advocates violence
"Hizb ut-Tahrir and Muslim voices that do not toe the government line have been severely oppressed by the Chinese government," Taji Mustafa, media representative for Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, told Reuters in an emailed statement.
"It is well known across the world that since its founding in 1953, Hizb ut-Tahrir has exclusively engaged in non-violent political and intellectual work," Mustafa added. He did not comment on whether the group was active in Xinjiang.
China maintains the threat is real. Hizb ut-Tahrir is likewise banned in countries such as Uzbekistan, where it has also been blamed for violence.
In November, China's Xinhua news agency announced sentences ranging from death to life in jail for six Uighurs accused of "splittism and organizing and leading terrorist groups," and implicated Hizb ut-Tahrir.
One of the men was found guilty of "proactively carrying out extremist religious activities and promoting 'jihad', establishing a terrorist training base and preparing to set up an 'Islamic caliphate,"' Xinhua reported.
In April, the Xinjiang government blamed Hizb ut-Tahrir for inciting protests in Khotan, in which the World Uyghur Congress said about 1,000 people took to the streets.
"By linking the unrest to Hizb ut-Tahrir there's legal cause for suggesting that these individuals were involved in a transnational conspiracy to set up an Islamic state and destabilize China," Gladney said.
"It's not clear that the civil unrest had any of those goals in mind," he added. "They were pretty disorganized."
Still, authorities launched a propaganda drive last year targeting what China says are the true intentions of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
"Be very clear about the 'Islamic Liberation Party's' reactionary nature," the Kashgar government said in a notice on its website. "Be very clear about their pervasive and actual threat to Xinjiang and Kashgar."
Yet while some Uighurs say they have heard of Hizb ut-Tahrir, they dismiss it as being irrelevant to their situation.
"What we want is simple -- freedom," said a Uighur resident of Xinjiang's regional capital, Urumqi, who asked not be identified, fearing repercussions with the authorities. "But there are too many Han and too few of us."
Islamic extremists trying to establish a global caliphate?
Or, peaceful people seeking their human rights?
We know how oppressive the Communist Chinese government is, and we know how violent the Islamist militants are.
Terrorist activity provokes an already oppressive government, whose reaction helps recruit more terrorists. The Uighur people are caught in the middle; if the Chinese don't eliminate their culture altogether, Wahhabi-style extremists will destroy it by forcing it to become like the Taliban or like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, there's the growing flow of heroin through the region....