To begin with it was subtle. A security official who had stopped by at my hotel for a "chat" appeared to be the only thing coming between me and the mosques I wanted to see dotted around the dusty plains of Ningxia province.

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But by the time my trip to investigate China’s latest government crackdown on Muslims was drawing to a close, attempts by the state to block me off at every turn were verging on the ridiculous.

The swelling gang of nameless men in black had stopped trying to hide the fact they were tailing me, driving bumper-to-bumper down winding rural roads and pulling over on deserted highways whenever I stopped.

The rise of a police state in neighbouring Xinjiang, another Chinese province,…

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