China bans civil servants in restive Xinjiang from observing Ramadan fast

State newspapers running editorials warning about dangers of fasting

Armed policemen patrol near a railway station, where three people were killed and 79 wounded in a bomb and knife attack, in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, last May.  Photograph:  Petar Kujundzic/Reuters

Armed policemen patrol near a railway station, where three people were killed and 79 wounded in a bomb and knife attack, in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, last May. Photograph: Petar Kujundzic/Reuters

 

Muslim civil servants, teachers, students and cadres in the restive Chinese region of Xinjiang have been ordered not to fast during the month of Ramadan as part of efforts to tighten security following a series of deadly attacks.

The fiercely secular Communist Party keeps a firm grip on religion in China, requiring the faithful to worship at state-organised mosques and churches.

In recent years, state employees in Xinjiang, an ethnically divided region in the far west that is home to mainly Muslim Uighurs, have been forbidden from observing the Ramadan fast.

Adding to local anger about the crackdown, state newspapers have been running editorials warning about the health dangers of fasting.

Xinjiang’s 10 million-plus Turkic-speaking Uighurs are a Turkic Muslim ethnic group that shares close linguistic and cultural links to central Asia, and is quite distinct from China’s majority Han.

Many Uighurs feel overwhelmed by the influx of Han settlers, and feel they have no way to voice their grievances. This year, messages on state agency websites reminded public servants fasting was not allowed.

One local government website said civil servants cannot “take part in fasting and other religious activities”.

This year has seen a number of attacks by separatists. Twenty-nine people were killed and 140 injured when eight knife-wielding assailants attacked the main train station in the southwestern city of Kunming in March. Police killed four attackers.

The Kunming attack raised fears of similar terror attacks nationwide. Weeks later, in May, a suicide bombing killed 39 people at a market in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi.

Crackdown on violence

Uighurs see the rules forbidding fasting as an attack on their religious freedom, and they are sure to add to local tensions. Many Uighurs say the suppression of cultural and religious freedoms is fuelling unrest in the region and attacks elsewhere in China.

President Xi Jinping has pledged to come down hard on religious extremists and separatist groups in the province.

Beijing blames the East Turkestan Islamic Movement for violence in Xinjiang, saying it is China’s most potent security threat. The movement was listed as a terrorist organisation by the US in 2002.