Authorities Continue to Restrict Ramadan Observance in Xinjiang

October 20, 2010

Authorities in the far western region of Xinjiang exert tight control over religious practice in the region, in a number of cases imposing limits on religious activities that are harsher than restrictions imposed elsewhere in China. Authorities single out Islam in some instances, as illustrated by a series of recent reports illustrating continued controls over Muslims' observance of the holiday of Ramadan. During the month-long period of daily fasting, which ended in mid-September, some local governments described steps to curb observance of the holiday, including barring some people from fasting, ordering restaurants to stay open, and increasing oversight of religious venues.

Local governments in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) continued in 2010 to impose restrictions on Muslims' observance of Ramadan. The curbs in 2010 follow restrictions on the month-long holiday of daily fasting as documented by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) in previous years (1, 2). An official from the XUAR Ethnic Affairs Commission and Religious Affairs Bureau said in an August 12 China Network TV (CNTV) article that Muslims have the "right to choose whether to fast during Ramadan or not," but reports from the past year indicate local officials have interfered with Muslims' right to observe the holiday. Examples include:

  • Officials, Students Forbidden From Observing Ramadan. Some local governments have forbidden broad categories of people from observing Ramadan. The head of Ha'erbake township in Luntai (Bugur) county, Bayangol Mongol Autonomous Prefecture, said at a meeting of cadres and religious figures that groups such as Communist Party members, cadres, and students "resolutely must not go in and out of mosques and participate in fasting activities," according to an August 11 report on the Luntai county government Web site. The Artush Agricultural and Machinery Bureau adopted six measures during the holiday for its staff, forbidding people from going to sites of Ramadan-related activities, participating in religious activities, and fasting, or else face being "dealt with severely," according to an August 13 report from the Bureau's Web site. Party members in the Artush City Radio and Television Office, along with their family members, were forbidden from fasting during Ramadan and going to mosques and praying, according to an August 19 Radio Free Asia article.

    Ramadan restrictions reported in Shache (Yarkand, Yeken) county, Kashgar district, focused on preventing students from observing the holiday. Education officials in Shache reported taking steps to ensure "stability" and prevent religion from "infiltrating" schools during Ramadan, according to an August 6 report on the Shache government Web site. Measures included visiting students' households to convey Party policy, to grasp students' "ideological posture and acts" and "to conscientiously ensure students don't fast, don't believe in religion, and don't participate in religious activities," according to the report. Schools, teachers, and parents were also to sign a series of "stability responsibility forms" to clarify each party's duties in "ideology work" and ensure "safety and stability" during Ramadan. "Indulging" or "letting students alone" to fast during Ramadan is among 23 acts defined as "illegal religious activities" in the XUAR. (See Item 5 in a copy of the "Autonomous Region Definitions of 23 Types of Illegal Religious Activities" posted February 25, 2008, on the Chinggil (Qinghe) county, Altay district, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, government Web site.)

  • Forcing Restaurants To Operate. The CNTV article reported, "At the beginning of Ramadan, some Muslim restaurants and stores are closed during the daytime, as most of their customers are fasting." In practice, however, some local governments in the XUAR have ordered restaurants to stay open during the holiday. Trade and commerce officials met with private business association members in Jeminay county, Altay district, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, in advance of Ramadan to ensure "normal" operations in the restaurant industry during the holiday, according to an August 10 article from Xinjiang News Net. Officials conveyed Communist Party policy on ethnic and religious issues, and businesspeople in attendance "made clear" that they would not suspend their "duty" to engage in business operations during Ramadan, according to the report. The news follows a report of restrictions on the restaurant industry in another part of the XUAR in August 2009. During that time, the Aksu Municipal Construction Bureau issued a notice forbidding Halal restaurants from shutting down during Ramadan on the "pretext" of making repairs or renovations, according to an August 25, 2009, report on the Aksu Municipal Construction Bureau Web site.
  • Increased Monitoring of People and Religious Venues. In Ta'erlake township, also in Luntai county, a local Party official called for measures including increasing "education and management" of "key persons," strengthening oversight of mosques, having leading cadres "understand and grasp at all times conditions in mosques and among religious personages," and heightening patrols in the township during Ramadan, according to an August 12 report from the Luntai county government Web site. Officials in Keping (Kalpin) county, Aksu district, called for government organizations to raise their sense of "political responsibility and acumen" during Ramadan, to inspect "hot spots" and "troublesome problems" in the area of religion, and increase oversight of religious venues, activities, and religious figures, according to an undated 2010 report on the Aksu Party Committee Organization Department Web site. Education officials in Shache county, cited above, also called for increased monitoring of schools during Ramadan.

For more information on religion in the XUAR, see a related CECC analysis and Section IV―Xinjiang in the CECC 2010 Annual Report.