Western news outlets are rife with reports that Chinese officials in the Xinjiang province have imposed a set of heavy-handed restrictions on the observation of the month of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. The restrictions are said to include, among others, a ban on fasting by government officials, Communist Party members, teachers and students, and measure to have men shave off their beards and women to remove their veils. AFP quotes from the websites of several county governments in the Xinjiang province:
“Faced with recent violent and disruptive activities by religious extremists, separatists and terrorists, we must… step up ideological education of religious leaders and followers,” [from the Zhaosu county website]
“We must timely warn and stop religious believers from organising and planning large scale prayer groups and prevent any large crowd incidents that could harm social stability,” [from the Xinhe county website]
“For those that maintain beards and for the women who wear veils, we should take all effective measures to have them shave their beards and take off their veils,”
“The handing out of religious propaganda in public places by any work unit or individual is banned,”
“We must strictly prohibit the playing of any audio-visual tapes, loud speaker announcements and religious drum rituals that could disrupt the Ramadan festival.” [from the Shaya government website]
A quick search by Shanghaiist found that some of the offending notices have already been taken down, such as this one on the Shaya government website. Another notice put up on the Huocheng county website remains online though and has this one paragraph that caught our attention:
To strictly enforce a prohibition on fasting among party officials, teachers and students. Through education, request officials and teachers to resist the practice of fasting, and to enforce moral education and atheist education among minors so as to instill correct life principles, values and historical viewpoints.
Both government notices have been placed online by a Beijing blogger by the name of Xu Hui, though we expect this to be taken down anytime soon.
It is helpful to note that all of the above-named are relatively small counties and similar restrictions have not been reported in the bigger cities such as Urumqi and Kashgar (although security is no doubt on high alert in those places). Is there a top-down government directive to impose those restrictions province-wide or are the poorly worded regulations the work of incompetent local officials? We are inclined to believe the latter.
Meanwhile, Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur service has reported the sacking of an ethnic Uyghur woman, Mehbube Ablesh, 29, from her post at Xinjiang People’s Radio Station and her subsequent imprisonment. At present, there is no confirmation from any mainstream media outlets.
AFP: China imposes Ramadan security crackdown in Muslim northwest
The Guardian: China officials tighten restrictions on Muslim practices
IHT: Local Chinese governments impose rules for Ramadan
Islam Online: No Tarawih for China Muslims
BBC Chinese: 中国严厉限制新疆穆斯林斋月活动