ucanews.com reporter, BeijingUpdated: April 21, 2015 07:35 PM GMT
Muslim pilgrims arrive for the evening prayer at Mecca's Grand Mosque in September 2014 as hundreds of thousands of worshipers began pouring into the holy city for the annual hajj pilgrimage (AFP Photo/Mohammed Al-Shaikh)
The Chinese government has expelled 32 officials for arranging Muslim pilgrimages without proper oversight, state media reported on Thursday, the latest sign that Beijing is trying to restrict Islamic extremists traveling to and from the Middle East.
Several investigations appeared to have widened since the end of October when it was announced that 13 officials in restive Xinjiang were facing a probe.
Among those expelled from the Communist Party and their postings were Aniwar Turdi, former director of Xinjiang’s pilgrimage affairs office, as well as dozens of officials from Kizilu Prefecture, a remote area near the city of Kashgar.
“In addition to arranging pilgrimages for unqualified people, the investigated officials were found to have asked for and received bribes or neglected the inspection and management of pilgrimage work,” the state-run China Daily reported.
In recent years, the Chinese government has introduced increasingly strict checks on would-be Hajj pilgrims who must sign up on a long waiting list.
Once accepted, pilgrims must travel to Mecca on state-approved tours and sign a declaration promising to “return as scheduled”, according to the government’s China Islamic Association.
Xinjiang’s minority Muslim Uyghurs have faced difficulties receiving state permission to take part in the Hajj in recent years as separatist violence has escalated in western China.
Last year, a number of Chinese citizens were reported to be fighting for the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
China arrested 10 Turkish citizens and nine Uyghurs for plotting to smuggle members of the minority — including a wanted terrorist — out of China to destinations including Syria in November, state media reported on Wednesday.
“Cracking down on illegal immigration is an aspiration shared by the international community, and also the persistent stance of the Chinese government,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in response to the arrests on Wednesday.