A Chinese official in Xinjiang has been demoted due to his “timidity in fighting against religious extremism” after declining to smoke in front of religious elders.
Jelil Matniyaz, a Communist Party chief of a village in Hotan, was demoted from “senior staff member” to “staff member” last month for “being afraid to smoke in front of religious figures,” according to a report on Saturday from the Hotan Daily. Matniyaz, who was identified as a member of the Uighur Muslim ethnic minority, was also charged with having “infirm political stands.”
Nationalistic party tabloid the Global Times quoted another local official explaining that government leaders must push back against “extreme religious thought,” questioning Matniyaz’s “commitment to secularization” for his no-smoking policy:
Smoking is a personal choice, and religious and ordinary people should respect each other, but his behavior of ‘not daring’ to smoke conforms with extreme religious thought in Xinjiang.
As a Party chief, he should lead the fight against extreme religious thought, otherwise, he would fail to confront the threat of extreme regional forces.
While smoking is not strictly forbidden in many parts of the Muslim world, it is occasionally discouraged by the religiously devout. Turgunjun Tursun, a professor with the Zhejiang Normal University, told the Global Times that according to local religious customs, one should not smoke in front of older people or among religious figures.
The demotion comes as Xinjiang authorities are launching a renewed crackdown on “religious extremism” in the restive region. Last month, a new regulation was passed by the region’s top legislature which bans 15 types of behavior allegedly linked with “religious extremism,” including: wearing veils, having “abnormal” beards, refusing to watch state television and preventing children from having a national education.
Of course, religious and cultural bans are nothing new in the restive region of Xinjiang. In recent years, Uighur Muslims have complained about a number of measures that they say discriminate against their religion by cracking down on religious holidays and customs. These crackdowns have been been particularly intense in the southern prefecture of Hotan. In 2015, local authorities in one township ordered shops and restaurants to start selling cigarettes and alcohol or be closed down.
While China has said that these kinds of hard-line policies are necessary for maintaining peace and stability in the region, international observers have instead blamed them with fueling tensions, driving more Uighurs to terrorist groups like the Islamic State who released a video in February promising to “shed blood like rivers” in China.
Almost a hundred other Hotan officials were also named and shamed for offenses including “lax work styles, dereliction of duty, and bribery” in a probe that was personally directed by Chen Quanguo, Communist Party Secretary in Xinjiang, who has vowed to crack down on religious extremism after being transferred over from Tibet last August. In February, Chen ordered 10,000 Chinese troops to march through the streets of Urumqi in a grandiose show of force against religious extremism.
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