Chinese authorities restrict Uyghur welfare recipients from doing daily prayers


In a further erosion of their freedom to practice their religion, Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are forbidden from performing daily prayers if they are recipients of state welfare payments.

Enacted in 2017, the ban on the daily prayer called namaz already targets younger Uyghur residents of the XUAR, but now extends to families and individuals receiving state benefits, sources in the region say.

“We don’t even think about doing namaz now,” a long time Communist Party member and welfare recipient in the town of Doletbagh in southeastern Kashgar prefecture told RFA’s Uyghur Service in a recent interview.

“And it’s the same for non-Party members. It’s just not possible,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Anyone who receives a salary from the government is simply not allowed to practice religion,” he said.

“Welfare recipients cannot do namaz,” a village police officer in Xinjiang’s Atush city said.

The move further tightens controls on Islamic practice that have already seen restrictions placed on the annual Ramadan fast, religious practice by government workers, and the banning of religious instruction for Uyghur children under 18, who are also barred from entering mosques.

For now, only those 65 years or older are allowed to do the daily prayer.

Those found praying in violation of the rules face penalties including possible incarceration in Xinjiang’s vast network of political re-education camps, where as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups accused of “religious extremism” have been held since 2017.

Beginning in October 2018, China acknowledged the existence of the camps, but described them as voluntary “vocational centres” set up to combat radical Islamic terrorism.

Reporting by RFA has found that detainees are mostly held against their will and forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.

With international criticism mounting over the XUAR internment camps, President Xi Jinping gave a hard-line speech to the Xinjiang Central Work Forum that ended on Sept. 26 that China’s strategy was “totally correct and must carry on for a long time,” according reports issued by state media.

“The whole party must treat the implementation of the Xinjiang strategy as a political task, and work hard to implement it completely and accurately to ensure that the Xinjiang work always maintains in the correct political direction,” Xi said.

Nury Turkel, a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said the remarks sounded “tone deaf” outside China but showed that “China’s genocidal policies have been deliberate, systematic, and ruthless with the ultimate goal to stamp out the Uyghur culture and identity.”

The USCIRF, an independent U.S. federal government body, has urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to formally designate China’s atrocities in the XUAR as genocide.

“The scale and scope of the oppression on the world’s watch cry out for global condemnation and governmental actions,” said Turkel. (Source: RFA)