China imposes Ramadan security crackdown in Muslim northwest


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AFP
Sep 05, 2008

BEIJING (AFP) — Authorities in China's Muslim-populated far northwest are seeking to prevent mass prayers and the distribution of religious material as part of a security crackdown for Ramadan, government notices said.

A series of attacks on police in Xinjiang around last month's Beijing Olympic Games left more than 20 officers and security guards dead, and at least as many attackers killed or arrested, in the biggest unrest there in years.

As the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began, local governments this week issued orders to clamp down on security in the region and stop its ethnic Muslim Uighur population from using the holy month to foment further unrest.

"Faced with recent violent and disruptive activities by religious extremists, separatists and terrorists, we must... step up ideological education of religious leaders and followers," a notice posted on Xinjiang's Zhaosu county website said.

The county government prohibited government officials, Communist Party members, teachers and students from observing Ramadan, while warning that "any person caught forcing another to observe Ramadan" would be punished.

"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," said a notice on the Xinhe county website.

In some areas, the crackdown also was extended to the Muslim religious practices of men growing beards and women covering their faces with veils.

"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 Shaya government said, without elaborating on how this would be done.

The county government also stepped up patrols around mosques and urged top officials to remain vigilant around the clock for any incidents that could result in social instability.

"The handing out of religious propaganda in public places by any work unit or individual is banned," the Shaya government said.

"We must strictly prohibit the playing of any audio-visual tapes, loud speaker announcements and religious drum rituals that could disrupt the Ramadan festival."

Xinhe and Shaya are near Kuqa city where up to 10 alleged Muslim attackers were reportedly killed after assaulting a local police station on August 10.

Xinjiang is a vast desert region bordering Central Asia that is home to 8.3 million Uighurs, many of whom say they have suffered decades of political and religious repression under Chinese rule.

The Uighurs established two short-lived East Turkestan republics in Xinjiang in the 1930s and 1940s, when Chinese central government control was weakened by civil war and Japanese invasion.

Phelim Kyne, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the postings on the government websites appeared to be the first time that such hardline religious control measures had been openly and publicly disclosed.

"We have heard of these types of measures on beards and veils, that Uighur party members and citizens who join the government are expected to distance themselves from overt cultural and religious expressions," Kyne said.

"But by putting them in black and white on government websites, they are showing that they have become much more concerned with the situation and are deepening the crackdown."

According to Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uighur Congress, the measures would only increase tensions among Xinjiang's Muslim population.

"To publicly restrict Uighurs from observing the Ramadan fast is a serious act trampling on the religious faithful," the German-based Raxit said in a statement.

"At the same time this is only going to intensify the conflict (in Xinjiang)."

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