Chinese region tightens controls over Muslims for Ramadan

Arab World Materials 4 September 2008 16:42 (UTC +04:00)

Officials have tightened controls over mosques and religious practice in China's restive Xinjiang region for the ongoing Ramadan festival, according to exiled Uighurs and local government notices seen on Thursday.

Xinjiang officials ordered Muslim restaurants to stay open during the traditional Ramadan fasting and imposed restrictions on mosques and government work units, Dilxat Raxit of the Munich-based World Uighur Congress said in a statement, reported dpa.

A notice on the official website of Xinjiang's Aksu city listed nine measures to be taken for Ramadan by the Yingmaili township government in Shaya (Xayar) county, starting by publicizing the religious policies of the ruling Communist Party.

The notice bans mosques in Yingmaili from hosting people from outside the area or playing music, videos, trumpets or drums; and prohibits them from coercing people into fasting or taking part in other religious activities.

Local officials should increase their minimum contact with mosques from twice weekly to eight times a week during Ramadan and enhance their knowledge to "prohibit illegal religious activities", it said.

Non-local families and work units should sign "stability contracts" to prevent any external religious influence.

"For men with heavy beards and women with veils, take every kind of positive measure [to persuade them] to shave off beards and remove veils," said the undated notice.

Similar measures were publicized by Yingwusitang township in Xinjiang's Shache (Yarkant) county, following a meeting on Monday of local government and religious officials on "maintaining stability during Ramadan".

A report on the official website of the Shache government said township officials were asked to make daily reports on local religious affairs during Ramadan and "strictly prohibit party members, cadres and students from fasting or taking part in religious activities".

Similar controls were introduced in Xinjiang during previous Ramadan festivals and it was not immediately clear if this year's measures exceeded the earlier ones.

Xinjiang witnessed a spate of deadly attacks that killed at least 26 people in less than 10 days last month.

Some analysts believed the attacks, which China blamed on Uighur terrorists and separatists, were timed to coincide with the Olympic Games in Beijing.

The Turkic-speaking Uighurs enjoyed brief periods of independence in the 1930s and 1940s, although Chinese dynasties have historically sought to control Xinjiang.

But since the Communist Party took control of China in 1949, the government has encouraged an influx of ethnic Han Chinese to the region, inflaming racial tension.