Xinjiang Authorities Implement Ramadan Curbs Amid Renewed Pledges for Tight Controls Over Religion

October 11, 2011

Authorities in Xinjiang have continued to exert tight controls over the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which occurred this year in August. During the month-long period of daily fasting, local government authorities prohibited students, teachers, and government workers from observing the fast, ordered restaurants to stay open, and increased oversight of mosques and religious personnel. Xinjiang officials have enforced similar restrictions in previous years. The curbs in 2011 also came amid a renewed pledge by Xinjiang authorities to crack down on "illegal religious activities."

Authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have continued to exert tight controls over the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. Directives from local governments throughout the region indicate that during the month-long period of daily fasting, authorities prohibited students, teachers, and government workers from observing the fast, ordered restaurants to stay open, and increased oversight of mosques and religious personnel. The Ramadan curbs follow similar controls in place in previous years, as documented by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) (1, 2, 3).

The curbs also came amid a renewed pledge by XUAR authorities to "strike hard" against "illegal religious activities." At an August 5 meeting, XUAR Communist Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian called for "resolutely curbing illegal religious activities," as well as attacking "using religion to instigate and implement violent terrorist activities." See an August 7 Tianshan Net report and Xinhua report, via People's Daily, August 9. The XUAR Public Security Department launched a two-month "strike hard" anti-terrorism campaign later in the month that includes "illegal religious activities" and "religious extremism" as targets. See, e.g., a Xinjiang Legal Daily report, via Xinjiang Peace Net, August 15. The heightened controls follow incidents in Kashgar and Hoten municipalities in July that authorities and official media described as terrorist attacks. See official reporting of the incidents from the Kashgar Municipal People's Government, August 1, and China News Service, July 20, via Open Source Center, CPP20110720075001. For overseas reports, including reported information from witnesses and local sources that contradicts official Chinese reporting of events in Hoten, see, e.g., Radio Free Asia, July 18 and July 19; World Uyghur Congress, July 19; Associated Press, via Times of India, July 20; and Washington Post, August 1. See a previous CECC analysis for background on Chinese government reporting on terrorist activity and see Section II—Freedom of Expression and Section IV—Xinjiang in the CECC 2010 Annual Report for information on curbs on free press that have hindered efforts to gather information on reported terrorist attacks in the XUAR.

As noted in the CECC 2010 Annual Report, Chinese authorities have long claimed "religious extremism" and "illegal religious activities" as threats to security in the XUAR. They define such terms to encompass religious practices, group affiliations, and viewpoints protected under international human rights guarantees for freedom of religion. Authorities have labeled religious education for children and private religious classes outside of government control as "illegal" activities, for example, and have carried out campaigns against clothing and attire, such as veils, deemed to reflect "extreme" forms of religion. (See, e.g., previous CECC analyses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.) As authorities continue to target "illegal religious activities" and "extremism," recent curbs instituted during Ramadan include:

  • Students, Teachers Forbidden from Fasting. As XUAR authorities continue to enforce harsh controls over children's freedom of religion, including curbs unseen elsewhere in China, local authorities have described a range of steps to prevent children from observing Ramadan and from participating in other religious activities. "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," via the Chinggil (Qinghe) county, Altay district, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, government Web site, posted February 25, 2008.) Authorities also have applied curbs to teachers.

    Authorities in Toghraqliq township, Qiemo (Cherchen) county, Bayingol Mongol Autonomous Prefecture, convened an "ideological education meeting" for students and teachers ahead of Ramadan and called on teachers to regularly visit students' homes and understand their "ideological state," to ensure no students under 18 enter mosques, and to strictly prohibit fasting, according to an August 4 report on the Qiemo County Government Web site (cached). Authorities also called on students to take part in a campaign called "little hands guiding big hands," whereby students convey Party policy to their parents and "contribute their strength" to the township's "social and political stability." Authorities in Mandanbulaq township, Jinghe (Jing) county, Bortala Mongol Autonomous Prefecture, visited local elementary schools in advance of the holiday and called for "leading" students not to "participate in religious activities, such as Ramadan and religious services," according to a June 30 report on the Bortala Government Web site. In Bole (Bortala) municipality, Bortala, authorities called for carrying out "propaganda and education" toward Muslim students and for "resolutely stopping" the phenomenon of minor-age Muslim students entering mosques, according to a July 20 report on the Bortala Government Web site. An elementary school in Mekit county, Kashgar district, described plans for holding a meeting to "mobilize" teachers, staff, and students not to fast, according to an August 5 report on the Mekit County Government Web site. (Original link redirects to incorrect site. See a reprint via Uyghur Online.) Authorities also noted plans to carry out education in atheism, according to the report. Authorities in Yengiyer township, Yengisar county, Kashgar district, called for teachers to visit students' homes during Ramadan to convey state policy and provide information on the "harms" of fasting, according to an August 4 report on the Yengisar County Government Web site. They also called for "resolutely examining and putting a stop to" students and teachers participating in "unlawful activities" such as fasting, entering religious venues, and participating in "underground scripture study sites."

  • Government Workers Barred From Observing Holiday. Authorities have continued to forbid government employees from observing Ramadan, in some cases also imposing curbs on their family members. Authorities at the Yutian (Keriye) County Agricultural Bureau, Hoten district, called for each work unit to strengthen "management" of bureau staff and retired workers and to guarantee they "don't believe in religion, attend religious activities, or fast," according to an August 3 report on the Agricultural Bureau's Web site. They also called for ensuring family members do not "engage in, join, or participate" in "illegal religious activities," participate in "underground scripture study sites," or fast during Ramadan. Authorities also called for work units to send cadres to mosques every day during Ramadan to inspect certain prayer times. At a meeting on upholding stability and safety, the Kashgar District Meteorology Bureau called on all Bureau cadres and staff, "especially Party member cadres," to stress "science" and "civilization," and not join in religious activities like Ramadan, according to an August 4 report on the XUAR Meteorology Bureau Web site. The Kashgar District Agricultural Bureau called for holding "education in atheism" during Ramadan for cadres in the district's bureaus, according to an August 3 report on the Xinjiang Agricultural Department Web site. Authorities in Urumqi reportedly told officials there not to observe the fast in order to preserve their health for work needs, according to a July 28 Radio Free Asia article. The article also reported orders barring Party members and their families from observing Ramadan or going to mosques.
  • Orders for Restaurants To Stay Open. Some local governments have ordered or pressured restaurants to continue operations during Ramadan, a period when some eating establishments traditionally close during the day. In Jiashi (Peyziwat) county, Kashgar, authorities reported they would inspect restaurants to ensure the "political stability of the county" during Ramadan and not permit "any restaurant to stop operations for any reason," according to a July 28 report on the Jiashi County Government Web site. In Oyyaylaq township, Qiemo, Bayingol, officials reported they would send inspection teams to restaurants and "deal in accordance with regulations" with any eating establishment that closed "without cause," while "severely dealing with" anyone who "forced" others to close, according to an August 5 report on the Qiemo County Government Web site (cached, apparently updated August 10). Authorities in Zepu (Poskam) county, Kashgar, convened a "mobilization meeting" on the "normal operations" for the restaurant industry during Ramadan, according to a July 28 article (cached) on the Zepu County Government Web site. The county head "encouraged" (guli) ethnic minority-run restaurants to continue "normal operations" during Ramadan, pledged tax breaks for restaurants that stayed open, and said authorities would shut down restaurants that "operated irregularly without cause" during Ramadan and revoke their licenses for one year. A September 11 Los Angeles Times report from Kashgar said that local directives led restaurants to make "token gestures" to stay open.
  • Increased Controls Over Mosques and Religious Personnel. Local authorities have described taking a range of measures to increase supervision of mosques and religious personnel during Ramadan. In Wassheri township, Ruoqiang (Chaqiliq) county, Bayingol, township authorities held a meeting for religious personnel in advance of Ramadan and called on them to convey "propaganda and education" to religious believers, told them to help the Party and government convey the "real truth" and "essence" of the reported attack in Hoten in July, and called on them to maintain vigilance over their own conduct and over religious venues, according to a July 29 report on the Ruoqiang County Government Web site. Authorities also told religious personnel they were responsible for "dissuading" (quanzu) any students, teachers, or Party members found to be fasting and told religious leaders they would be "severely dealt with" if found "inciting" a student to fast. Authorities in Tatirang township, Qiemo, described promoting a range of measures to strengthen control over religious personnel and venues, according to an August 5 report on the Qiemo County Government Web site (cached). Measures included "seriously implementing" a system of fixed contact with religious venues and a system of "chatting and making friends" with religious personnel; strengthening a system of legal responsibility for religious venues; enhancing training of religious personnel; and taking "effective measures" to stop "illegal activities" such as "underground scripture studies," taking on private religious students, and organizing religious activities that go beyond the locality.

For more information on conditions in the XUAR and controls over religion, see Section II—Freedom of Religion and Section IV—Xinjiang in the CECC 2010 Annual Report.