One of China's most popular online communities for Muslims has been shuttered after a letter was posted asking President Xi Jinping to stop a suppression of activists.
The Zhongmu Wang website had since 2003 functioned as an "online network of Muslims sharing Islam," but yesterday came a message it "under maintenance." Two affiliated sites were also unavailable.
China officially has more than 23 million Muslims, though some independent estimates reach 50 million.
The call to Xi was for a halt to the "brutal suppression" of activists and the immediate release of those detained by the state, one of the US-based students who wrote the petition said.
The letter claimed that Xi had overseen a crackdown on dissent since taking power in 2012, with hundreds of lawyers, activists and academics detained and jailed.
"You are not responsible for all of the crimes of the totalitarian system, but as the totalitarian system's head and its commander-in-chief of repression you must take responsibility for the blood and tears that now flow," the letter read. "In the next spring of China's new Jasmine Revolution who will drive your tanks to crush us, the new generation of students after 1989?"
Yi Sulaiman Gu, a Muslim student studying at the University of Georgia, said the site was shut the day after he had posted the letter to a forum that previously carried sensitive discussions on issues such as persecution of Muslim dissidents.
"We believed it would be safe for Zhongmu to post it there," he said.
But the letter gained attention when screenshots were reposted to Weibo by Xi Wuyi, a professor of Marxism at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who said it proved the site backed Xinjiang separatists.
Violence in Xinjiang, the homeland of 10 million Uygurs, has left hundreds dead, with Beijing attributing it to Islamic extremism and foreign influence.