The Chinese government has ordered restrictions on Ramadan observances in the northern province of Xinjiang, home to the majority of China's Muslim Uighur minority, leading Uighur leaders to warn of the potential for new violence in the restive region. Al Jazeera reports that party officials and students under the age of 18 have been banned from fasting during the Holy Month while government websites have urged local Communist Party leaders to impose further restrictions on religious activity.
Citing the need to "maint[ain] social stability during the Ramadan period" the Zonglang township in the Kashgar district issued a statement reminding citizens that "It is forbidden for Communist Party cadres, civil officials (including those who have retired) and students to participate in Ramadan religious activities." Others local governments have urged party leaders to enforce the ban by bringing "gifts" of food to local leaders.
Though mosques remain open for prayers, new restrictions have limited services. Foreigners have been banned from entering mosques and Muslims wishing to attend services must first display a national identity card as confirmation of their local residence. Public congregation after the services is prohibited and students are encouraged to avoid public prayer.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress attributed the crackdown to recent ethnic violence in the cities of Kashgar and Hotan but warned the restrictions will incite "the Uighur people to resist [Chinese rule] even further."
Xinjiang province has long history of rebellion against the communist government. Peaceful protests against the closure of independent religious schools and the ban of meshreps broke into violence in February 1997 when security forces opened fire on unarmed demonstrators. Security forces conducted house to house searches, arresting and, human rights activists warned, torturing some prisoners to death. Similar violence broke out in July 2009, killing 197 and injuring more that 1,600. The crackdown was severe, as police brutality, home searches, and mass detentions resulted in at least 43 disappearances.
In a press release issued last month, Amnesty International Asia Pacific Director Catherine Baber warned that "The general trend toward repression that we see all over China is particularly pronounced in [Xinjian]." The organization's report on the situation concluded" The ethnic identity of Uighurs is being systematically eroded."
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