BRIEFING: China attempts to criminalize every aspect of Uyghur religious belief and practice

For immediate release
May 8, 2014, 11:30am EST
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

An April 16, 2014 notice posted on the Shayar County, Aksu Prefecture government website details how informants could receive a reward for reporting on local residents exhibiting one or more of 53 proscribed behaviors. Given that Uyghurs comprise 83% of Shayar’s population, the notice appears targeted at Uyghurs in the county.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has translated into English the entire document from Shayar County local authorities (see below in the full briefing) and believes the notice exacerbates tensions and suspicion between local residents through monetary enticement. According to government statistics, GDP per capita and average wages in Shayar County fall well below regional averages. 

Informants could be rewarded with payments of 50 Yuan to 50,000 Yuan (8 USD to 8,000 USD) for notifying authorities of suspicious behaviors that include: distorting the facts of the unrest of July 5, 2009, “reactionary” speech, encouraging others to petition, and encouraging others to rally. The notice also specifies for potential informants 18 religious activities, including customary religious practices, indicating an unparalleled crackdown on religion in East Turkestan.

The publication of the document follows reports in the overseas media during the past year of a stepped up Chinese government campaign to repress religion in East Turkestan. These reports and the unprecedented nature of the restrictions detailed in the Shayar County notice reveal that since the publication of a report by the Uyghur Human Rights Project in May 2013 on religious repression, there has been a measurable deterioration in Uyghur religious freedom.

“The Chinese authorities’ intensified drive to repress religious practice and belief among Uyghurs has led to a marked decline for religious freedom in the past year,” said UHRP director, Alim Seytoff in a statement from Washington, DC. “The extent of the limits placed on Uyghur religious behavior now revealed in Shayar County tells us that the Chinese government will leave no stone unturned in curbing Uyghurs’ rights to peaceful religious expression. The conflation between customary religious behaviors common to almost all Uyghurs with religious extremism means nearly every Uyghur is complicit in ‘illegal religious activity’ and forces Uyghur believers to abandon their faith in order to avoid state punishment.”

A number of overseas media outlets, including Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and AFP via UK-based The Telegraph, reported in late April 2014 how Shayar officials were offering rewards for information on “illegal religious activities” in the county, including an encouragement to alert authorities to Uyghurs wearing “bizarre dress” or men growing beards. These articles appear largely based on an April 24, 2014 report published by the Chinese state run, Global Times. The Global Times report cited an individual at the state run Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences who claimed the Shayar notice would foster the maintenance of social stability and that it was a normal international practice to have such regulations.

Please read the full briefing including the translated notice here: http://docs.uyghuramerican.org/5-8-14_Briefing-Religious_Restrictions.pdf

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