Restrictions on Religion Continue in Xinjiang

June 25, 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 Muslim practices in some instances, as a number of recent reports detail. Authorities have claimed "illegal religious activities" and "religious extremism" as threats to the region's stability and blamed "religious extremism" as one source of unrest during demonstrations and rioting in Xinjiang in July 2009. Several recent government and media reports detail tight controls over religious activity in the year since the demonstrations and rioting took place. Such controls include steps to monitor mosques and pre-examine sermons, to prevent children from "believing in a religion," and to punish religious believers engaged in activities outside of officially approved parameters.

Authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) continue to exert tight control over the practice of religion, according to reports from XUAR government Web sites and Chinese and overseas media. In the aftermath of demonstrations and rioting in the XUAR in July 2009, authorities claimed "religious extremism" as one cause of the events in July and they continue to include controls over religion as part of security measures in the region. Some details about recent controls over religion in the XUAR remained unknown in the aftermath of the July events, as authorities curbed Internet access and imposed other restrictions over the free flow of information from the region. As government Web sites from the XUAR have become more widely accessible in recent months, several reports―some newly available―detail efforts throughout the year to control religious activity, discriminate against religious believers, and punish religious practitioners, singling out Muslim practices in some cases. Examples include:

  • Strengthening Oversight of Mosques, Religious Activities in Aqsu. The Aqsu municipal government in Aqsu district reported on strengthening implementation of and refining its "two systems" program of maintaining regular government contact with mosques and religious figures, according to a January 26 report from the Aqsu municipal government Web site. Measures include monitoring conditions at religious venues on a daily basis and formulating measures to pre-examine sermons. Aqsu district has launched a nine-month work project targeting "illegal religious activities," according to a May 18 Tianshan Net report. For more reports from Aqsu district on examining and "standardizing" the content of sermons, see a September 4, 2009, report from Yiganqi township (via Aqsu municipal government Web site) and April 20, 2010, report from Shayar county (via Xinjiang Kunlun Net, also reprinted in Uyghur Online). For more information on the "two systems" as implemented in another locality in the XUAR, see April 9, 2009, measures on the "two systems" posted on the Zepu (Peyziwat) county, Zepu Town government Web site.
  • Restrictions on Students' Freedom of Religion. As part of steps to "strengthen ethnic unity" and "safeguard social stability" on school campuses, authorities in Nilka county, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, described implementing "responsibility agreements" to prevent students from entering religious venues and participating in "illegal religious activities," according to a May 20 report from the Ili Party Committee Organization Department Web site. Concrete steps include ensuring students do not fast [a practice observed during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan], enter mosques or other venues during religious services, or wear clothes with a "religious hue." In addition, the report said that the county education bureau launched a campaign that brought teachers into students' homes to teach issues such as ethnic unity, state policy toward religion, and the "Six Forbiddens" for students. The "Six Forbiddens" refer to forbidding students from believing in religion, participating in religious activities, fasting, wearing clothes with a "religious hue," viewing or listening to audio-video products with "reactionary content," and disseminating "separatist thought" in any form, according to information posted August 31, 2009, on the Chapchal county, Ili, government Web site. In addition, the Bayingol Mongol Autonomous Prefecture in the XUAR adopted rules, effective September 2009, that include restrictions on children's and teacher's religious freedom, according to a report from the Bayingol Prefecture News Office (via Bayingol Mongol Autonomous Prefecture government Web site, August 27, 2009). The rules forbid elementary school students and teachers from "believing in religion," and forbid all students and teachers from participating in religious activities or wearing clothes with a "religious or superstitious hue," among other acts. People who violate the rules will receive "education" and be "severely dealt with," according to a preface to the rules.
  • Campaign against Scarves and Beards in Kucha. Authorities in Hanikatamu township in Kucha, Aqsu district, held a campaign in May to detect items such as "illegal publications," "illegal propaganda materials," and "bizarre" clothing, steps that an official connected to battling against "illegal religious activities" and separatists, according to a May 6 report on the Kucha Party Construction Web site (cached page). Some residents and officials, including a visiting delegation of county and district officials, took part in a public event to destroy confiscated items, which included 34 scarves, 42 items of clothing, and 53 books. The article described the steps as effectively attacking "religious fanaticism" and changing "outmoded thinking" regarding "bizarre" apparel worn by some women in Hanikatamu and "big beards" worn by some young men. Radio Free Asia (RFA) interviewed an official from Hanikatamu township, who affirmed that authorities had recently called on young people not wear scarves or beards. (See the interview in a June 9 article). Other localities within Kucha also reported carrying out campaigns against "illegal propaganda materials," including religious materials. (See cached pages, originally posted June 2 and June 4, from the Kucha Party Construction Web site.)
  • Discriminating Against Religious Job Candidates. Government offices in Turpan district and Shule (Qeshqer Yengisheher) county issued job advertisements for teachers and members of a performing arts troupe, respectively, that required that candidates "not believe in a religion" and "not participate in religious activities." See a September 11, 2009, posting on the Xinjiang Education Department Web site and March 5 posting on the Kashgar Personnel Bureau Web site. Article 12 of the PRC Labor Law states that job applicants shall not face discrimination in job hiring based on factors including religious belief, and the PRC Civil Servant Law does not bar religious adherents from government work.
  • Detentions of Religious Believers. Authorities in a village in Dadamtu township, Yining (Ghulja) county, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, detained three adult siblings and one sibling's spouse--Zulpiye, her brothers Extem and Tashpolat, and Tashpolat's wife Shemshiban--starting on July 7, 2009, in reported connection to their religious activities, according to May 13 and 26 Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports. Their father reported that authorities alleged Zulpiye had provided religious instruction to neighborhood women and that they detained his other children in connection to religious books they had read. He also reported that authorities criticized his children for wearing religious dress and for allegedly undercutting the authority of state-appointed imams. Information on the charges and trials, if any, against the group―three of whom are reportedly held at a detention center within Ili and a fourth whose whereabouts are not known―is not available. At another village within Dadamtu township, authorities detained Setiwaldi Hashim, his son Qasimjan Setiwaldi, son-in-law Tursunjan, nephew Abdurahman Osmanjan, Sultan Tursun, and his wife Helime on July 15, 2009, according to accounts by relatives of Setiwaldi Hashim and Sultan Tursun in the May 26 RFA report. A relative said authorities accused Setiwaldi Hashim of providing unauthorized religious instruction but the relative did not know the precise charges against Setiwaldi Hashim at trial. Authorities released Helime after 40 days. The current status of the remaining people in detention remains unknown. Authorities reportedly detained 32 women in a Quran study group in Bachu (Maralbéshi) county, Kashgar district, around early June, according to June 7 and 8 reports from Radio Free Asia. Authorities said the women were engaged in "illegal religious activities" and formally detained two of the women, releasing the others after fining them, according to the reports. A government article describing events in Bachu, linked to in the June 7 RFA article, appears to have been removed from the Internet.

For more information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV―Xinjiang in the CECC 2009 Annual Report.