View Full Version : Beijing’s suffocating control over Xinjiang’s Muslim Uighurs

Asia News Italy
08-09-06, 10:06
8 September, 2006

Young people and teachers are denied the right to worship. A mosque is torn down to leave space for a shopping mall. For experts the region’s energy resources are behind China’s policies.

Beijing (AsiaNews/F18) – In China's north-western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, control over the Uighurs continues to be much stricter than over other Muslim ethnic groups and comes close to being persecution. For Beijing separatism is the reason, but that has not stopped it from exploiting the region’s wealth for the benefit of its richer eastern provinces and keeping the Uighur population backward.

According to Forum 18, tight control is exerted on imams and the youth. The morning of every Friday, the Muslim day of rest, local imams are obliged to go to the local state Religious Affairs Bureau to discuss the text of their Friday sermon with officials and receive “general instructions”.

Every religious group must be registered with their Nation-Religious Committee and the appointment of leaders must be approved by the authorities. Religious leaders have to attend meetings of the national-religious committees, where officials tell them what policy they must pursue with believers. Believers may not hold a senior position in a state organisation, or be a school teacher. And young people under 18 are not allowed to attend places of worship.

Shi Si Shin, deputy head of the national religious committee in Urumqi, told Forum 18 that minors are not allowed to attend places of worship because they “need to finish their education and develop their personalities before they can make an informed decision as to whether they are believers or atheists”.

The ban is especially strict in the most religious districts like Hotan and Kashgar, where the police prevents young people and public servants from going to the mosque or attend madrassahs (Islamic religious schools). During the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, the authorities even force Muslim schoolchildren to have lunch.

Similarly, Muslim places of worship or buildings used by Muslims have been expropriated or demolished. Three years ago near Kashgar's main Id-ha mosque, the authorities tore down many small mud-built restaurants and tea houses where Muslims met to talk after prayers.

In Urumqi the old mosque was torn down and rebuilt as part of shopping mall, located somewhere between a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and a Carrefour supermarket. Worshipers complain that they cannot hear their own prayers because of the music and singing from the bazaar.

The authorities have also banned Sufism and Wahhabism and writers inspired by these Islamic movements, concerned of their possible political connections.

But according to Forum 18, other Chinese Muslim ethnic groups are not as tightly controlled. For instance, the authorities' power over mosques used by ethnic Dungans, who hail from central Asian states, is less strict. The situation is such that many Uighur parents often take their children to other parts of China, where they can study freely at a madrassah.

For some experts, the anti-Uighur persecution is essentially economic in nature. Chinese authorities want to wipe out the identity of the Uighur population in order to better take control of the region’s oil ad natural gas. To achieve this goal, Beijing has for years encouraged the immigration of ethnic Han Chinese.

Hans are now a slim majority among Xinjiang's 19.3 million people, but dominate in trade and the administration. Uighurs, 42 per cent of the population, are largely farmers.

Since January 2000, the central government has been pursing a ‘Develop the West programme’ to overcome the region’s relative backwardness compared to eastern regions. Building rail and roads, hydroelectric dams, and oil pipelines is part of the programme.

“Among the key projects of the Develop the West programme, the majority only benefits the east,” said Zhao Baotong, who heads the Economics Institute at the Shaanxi Academy of Social Sciences in the western city of Xian. “These projects are transporting electricity, natural gas and other resources from the west to the east to fuel development there. Almost none of these projects are aiming at developing local manufacturing industry in the west.” (PB)