China is trying to prevent people from fasting during Ramadan in the predominantly Muslim province of Xinjiang.
According to the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), officials in the region ordered all restaurants to remain open and a series of measures have been put in place seemingly designed to prevent people observing the holy month.
The region is dominated by the ethnically distinct Uyghur people, a group who have suffered years of repression as Beijing has tried to wipe out religious expression and all forms of allegiance to institutions other than the Communist party.
The party also fears religious extremism as the region borders several Muslim-majority countries where Islamist violence is becoming an increasing problem. Isis is also known to be trying to recruit there.
A notice issued by the Industrial and Commercial Bureau of Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture’s Bay (Baicheng) county in the region said the move was to ensure “stability maintenance”.
The bureau said it will “strengthen leadership” and “inspection” of the county during Ramadan.
It is forcing party activists to do marathon 24-hour shifts on guard in public buildings which make forgoing food and drink almost impossible.
Separately, in neighbouring Hotan (Hetian) county, students have been told they must gather on Fridays to “collectively study, watch red (communist) films, and conduct sports activities” to “enrich their social life during the summer vacation”.
Friday is Islam’s holy day and many customarily start the day at the mosque. In addition, many Muslims will have little energy to take part in sport while they are fasting.
A Han Chinese official in Hotan province refused to clarify whether the measures were explicitly designed to stop Uyghurs from fasting and praying during Ramadan when questioned by Radio Free Asia.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he said: “I cannot give you any details on this matter. You’d better inquire about it with the public security sectors.”
Another Han official working for the Zawa township in the province said public servants had been banned from fasting and if found out they would be “dealt with”.
The WUC notes that the restrictions on observing Ramadan do not seem to apply to the rest of China.
The authorities have tried to curtail observation of Ramadan, which runs from 26 May to 24 June this year, for several years but this time it coincides with the government’s increasingly draconian measures to crack down on religious expression.
In March it banned burqas and “abnormal” beards, and a month later banned Islamic baby names.
Earlier this month it was revealed that police in the region had purchased $8.7m (£6.7m) worth of equipment to analyse DNA from its citizens.
Last year, Uyghurs reported that officials were asking for DNA samples, fingerprints and voice records when they applied for a passport or to go abroad.
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