Chinese authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang ordered Muslim families to hand in all religious items to police, including prayer mats and copies of the holy Quran, Radio Free Asia reported on Wednesday. 

Official spokesman for the exile World Uyghur Congress group, Dilxat Raxit, said reports describing similar crackdowns emerged from Kashgar, Hotan, and other regions earlier last week. 

"We received a notification saying that every single ethnic Uyghur must hand in any Islam-related [item] from their own home, including Qurans, prayers and anything else bearing the symbols of [the] religion," he explained. 

"They have to be handed in voluntarily. If they aren't handed in, and they are found, then there will be harsh punishments," he added.

Raxit said announcements are being made by the police via popular social media platform WeChat.

Authorities are stepping up their crackdowns

Earlier this year, Xinjiang authorities launched a campaign titled "Three Illegals and One Item," aiming to ban "illegal" religious activities and religious teaching.  

As part of the campaign, authorities began confiscating "all Qurans published more than five years ago due to 'extremist content.'"

The campaign also targeted "items deemed by authorities as tools of terrorism," most of which are religious items owned by Muslim ethnic Uyghur residents.

Speaking to Radio Free Asia, a Kazakh source said the campaign had been "ineffective," prompting authorities to now step up the pressure. 

According to sources, "any products from neighboring Kazakhstan or bearing the Kazakh language or symbols have also been outlawed."

Not the first crackdown on minorities in China

This is certainly not the first crackdown against Xinjiang's Muslim Uyghur population, who have faced decades of state-sponsored oppression. 

Earlier this year, China announced a ban on burqas, veils, and "abnormal" beards for the residents of the predominantly Muslim province. 

The new regulations also forced residents to watch state television and provided guidelines on how children can be educated. 

The ban has been widely condemned by human rights organizations, who accused China of abusing minorities. Beijing denies the allegations.

A 2017 report by Human Rights Watch accused the Chinese government of continued "restrictions on fundamental human rights and pervasive ethnic and religious discrimination."

"The Chinese government has long justified censorship in minority areas as a measure to maintain 'ethnic harmony,'" HRW said

"But ironically, this censorship fuels bigotry and ignorance – heightening already-strained ethnic relations."

Muslims aren't the only ones to suffer in the country.

Christians and Tibetan Buddhists also face severe challenges in China as do activists and journalists.