A file photo of Uyghur men walking into a mosque for afternoon prayers in Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang region. Chinese authorities have restricted expressions of religion in Xinjiang in recent years such as wearing veils, fasting during Ramadan and young men growing beards. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP)
Weeks into Ramadan, authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang have handed down punishments to at least 100 ethnic minority Muslims for breaking the ruling Chinese Communist Party's restrictions on observance of the religious fasting month, an exile group said.
Since Muslims in China began observing dawn-to-dusk fasting and other restrictions on May 27, the government has been imposing fines and other sanctions on any state employees who refuse to eat in the middle of the day, according to the World Uyghur Congress, which represents the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group in exile.
"Since the beginning of Ramadan, at least 100 people have been punished for breaking the Chinese government's policies on Ramadan in Kashgar and Hotan [in Chinese, Hetian]," the group's spokesman Dilxat Raxit told Radio Free Asia.
"Some of them were fined, while others were sent to compulsory re-education classes aimed at opposing religious extremism," he said. "They are now being forcibly brainwashed, while others were fined 500 yuan [US$73]."
He said that fines of that magnitude in themselves represent an intolerable financial burden for poverty-stricken rural families.
Raxit said some of those punished were farmers, while others were state employees or government officials, all of whom are forbidden to fast or pursue any other religious activities under the atheist Communist Party.
Anyone in an official job is put under intense pressure to break their fast, to show loyalty to the government, he said.
"The authorities will send people to take [Uyghur Muslims] out to lunch, for example," Raxit said. "In the countryside, the officials go into the fields and eat and work alongside the people there ... it's basically a political campaign [against religious practice]."
Similar restrictions are being enforced in Urumqi, according to a resident of the city surnamed Jiao.
Thank you. You are now
signed up to our Daily Full