As Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have been prohibited from observing Ramadan for years, residents were ordered to report anyone discovered to be fasting, according to sources.
Uyghurs are prohibited from fully observing Ramadan due to religious persecution and restrictions imposed by the Chinese government, which has in many cases banned Uyghur civil servants, students and teachers from fasting during the holy month.
In certain areas of the region, access to mosques is more tightly controlled and restaurants are ordered to remain open.
Uyghur retirees are often forced to pledge ahead of Ramadan that they won’t fast or pray to set an example for the wider community and to assume responsibility for ensuring others also refrain.
RFA recently spoke with a Uyghur employee of the Makit county government who said that residents have been told that they could face punishment for fasting, including being sent to one of the XUAR’s vast network of internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017.
“Propaganda on Ramadan is prevalent in the counties, townships, and villages,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Taking part in Ramadan practices is propagated as a form of religious extremism.”
A Uyghur village leader in Makit, who also declined to be named, told RFA county-level authorities had issued a notice during a special meeting ahead of Ramadan which “said not to fast.”
The reasoning behind the county campaign is to uphold “national security,” a Uyghur government employee of a township in Makit explained to RFA.
“If they fast, then they’ll gather to eat, and if they gather, then they’ll disturb the society—they’ll threaten national security,” she said. “That’s why we propagate against keeping Ramadan.”
But the employee said, “it’s already been two or three years that people haven’t been fasting” in her village and that “everyone knows [not to], so they just naturally don’t.”
RFA also spoke with an official in Kashgar’s Peyziwat (Jiashi) county who said his township had instituted mandatory attendance at a daily dawn flag raising ceremony as well as evening political studies, which he said was part of a bid to prevent residents from fasting because those are the only times of the day that they are allowed to eat, according to Muslim tradition.
“Since we started the flag raising ceremony, neighbours’ surveillance of one another has been strengthened, so nobody is able to make time to break the fast,” he said.
“The evening political studies start at 9:30 p.m. and end at 11:30 p.m., and they are held at the neighborhood committee.”
A Uyghur officer at the Beimen District Police Station in the XUAR capital Urumqi told RFA that while residents there have not been ordered residents to report one another for fasting, authorities are keeping a close eye on who is observing Ramadan and keeping a record of their activities.
Last month, to mark the start of Ramadan, Uyghur exile groups urged the international community to speak out on behalf of members of their ethnic group enduring persecution in the XUAR.
In particular, they called on Muslims around the world “to keep the Uyghur people in their thoughts and prayers during the holy month of Ramadan and to call on their respective governments to demand that China immediately ceases its religious persecution of Uyghurs.” (Source: RFA)