Uninvited, more than one million Han Chinese people have reportedly moved into the homes of Uighur Muslim families to report on whether they display Islamic or unpatriotic beliefs.
Sent to homes in Xinjiang province by the Chinese government, American anthropologist Darren Byler said they were tasked with watching for signs that their hosts’ attachment to Islam might be “extreme”.
The informants, who describe themselves as "relatives" of the families they are staying with, are said to have received specific instructions on how to get them to let their guard down.
As devout Muslims would refuse cigarettes and alcohol. this is seen as one way of finding out whether they were extreme.
“Had a Uighur host just greeted a neighbour in Arabic with the words ‘Assalamu Alaykum’? That would need to go in the notebook,” said Dr Byler, in research published by Asia Society's Centre on US-China Relations. “Was that a copy of the Quran in the home? Was anyone praying on Friday or fasting during Ramadan? Was a little sister’s dress too long or a little brother’s beard irregular?”
As many as a million Uighurs are thought to have been rounded up and placed in "re-education’ centres", in what China claims is a clampdown on religious extremism.
Those who have spent time in them, have however claimed that they were forced to undergo an intensive indoctrination programme, urged to renounce Islam and instead heap praise on the Chinese Communist Party.
One former inmate claimed Muslim inmates were forced to eat pork and drink alcohol.
Dr Byler said more than a million Chinese civilians, who refer to themselves as "relatives", were assigned to the homes of Muslims for a series of week-long stays in 2017.
His claim appeared to be confirmed in the Communist Party's official newspaper, the People's Daily, which reported that more than 1.1 million people paired up with 1.69 million ethnic minority citizens in China by the end of September this year.
They often focus on families of those who have been detained in the "re-education" centres.
China was also said to be trying to prevent people from fasting during Ramadan in Xinjiang last year.
According to the World Uighur Congress (WUC), officials in the region ordered all restaurants to remain open and a series of measures were put in place seemingly designed to prevent people observing the holy month.
Chinese authorities have also been accused of putting Uighur children and those from other ethnic minority groups into state-run orphanages across the western Xinjiang region, even if their parents were not dead, as some one million adults in their families were sent to internment camps.
Dilxat Raxit, of the exile World Uighur Congress, has also claimed officials in Xinjiang warned them that they must surrender religious items such as the Quran or face “harsh punishments”.
The Independent has contacted the Chinese Embassy in London for comment.
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