Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have ordered mosques frequented by mostly Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs to use the holy month of Ramadan to publicize Beijing's anti-terrorism campaign, according to an exile Uyghur group.
The municipal government in the regional capital Urumqi has ordered mosques to "propagandize" China's anti-terrorism policies on the eve of the beginning of Ramadan on Saturday, and just ahead of the fifth anniversary of deadly ethnic riots that left nearly 200 people dead in 2009, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) told RFA.
Muslim Uyghurs will begin a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting and prayers on Saturday amid increased surveillance from neighborhood committee and security officials, as well as newly installed cameras, WUC spokesman Dilxat Raxit said.
"Between 10 and 18 security personnel have been stationed inside every mosque in the city for surveillance," Raxit said. "Also, all mosques are being required to ensure that the surveillance cameras installed there are in normal working order."
He said restrictions would be extended to Uyghurs at schools and colleges across the city.
"Students will have to attend 'patriotic study' classes, while schools are required to organize meals for students to ensure they don't fast or attend any illegal religious activities," Raxit said.
He said neighborhood-level officials have had all vacation canceled.
"[These] officials won't be allowed to take leave during Ramadan, and they will have to work a seven-day week," Raxit said in an interview. "They will have to keep watch to see whether Uyghurs take part in religious activities during Ramadan."
"There was also a directive issued that calls for them ... to enter and search people's homes during the Ramadan period," Raxit said.
"Surveillance teams are being set up in every town and village to carry out sudden-strike searches of Uyghur households, to see if they are holding any unauthorized gatherings," he said.
An official who answered the phone at the Xinjiang regional religious affairs bureau declined to comment.
"The official in charge of speaking to foreigners isn't here," the official said. "I don't know about this."
Restaurants stay open
A Xinjiang resident who asked to remain anonymous said that all Muslims, whether Uyghur or ethnic Chinese Hui, are required to keep their restaurants open throughout Ramadan, in spite of the fast.
"Their restaurants will stay open, though some observe Ramadan," the resident said. "It's not just the Uyghurs; the Hui also observe Ramadan, and maybe everyone has more religious feeling right now under this oppression, and maybe they are getting more serious about their religion."
Employees who answered the phone at a number of mosques in Urumqi's Tianshan and Shayibake districts declined to answer questions about the security measures, while some numbers rang unanswered during office hours on Thursday.
An Urumqi resident surnamed Zhang said notices had been posted at street level in his district of the city offering rewards of tens of thousands of yuan for information "of any kind" on terrorists or their activities.
"Here, it's just one sensitive day after another," Zhang said. "There's no let-up."
"The authorities are determined to crack down on terrorism, and they have stuck up this notice at the entrances of all the alleyways," he said.
Ethnic and religious affairs officials in Urumqi's Tashan district said they have already hired a large number of temporary security personnel for "stability maintenance" work in religious affairs, local media reported.
"Stability maintenance work will involve deep penetration into ... places of religious activity, tightening management of places of worship and their staff, and preventing any members of the [ruling Chinese Communist] Party, civil servants, students, or minors from taking part in religious activities," the officials said in a statement on Tuesday.
"We will continue to step up our monitoring of ethnic minority women entering places of worship," reports quoted the officials as saying.
Uyghur civil servants and party members have long been banned from fasting during Ramadan, which is due to end in the three-day feast of Eid al-Fitr around July 28 this year.
China is reeling following a string of high-profile attacks blamed on militants in Xinjiang, the traditional home of the Uyghurs, who complain they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness.
Last Friday, an ethnic minority Uyghur suspect stabbed a police officer to death and seriously wounded another at Ishkul township police station in Yarkand (in Chinese, Shache) county in Xinjiang's Kashgar prefecture.
And in a separate attack, five police officers were killed in a predawn stabbing and arson attack at a Qaraqash security checkpoint in southwestern Hotan prefecture.
On May 22, unidentified attackers plowed two motor vehicles into an open market in Urumqi and set off explosives, lefaving 31 people dead and more than 90 injured and prompting authorities to launch a one-year anti-terrorism campaign in the region.
The death toll is believed to be the highest in Xinjiang violence since bloody riots in Urumqi in 2009 between Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese left almost 200 people dead.
The Qaraqash attack stemmed from government harassment of Uyghur women wearing headscarves and men with beards, according to residents.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.