Uyghur farmers in northwestern China’s troubled Xinjiang region are being forced to attend evening classes in a new drive aimed at bringing them in line with official views on religion and government policy, sources in the mostly-Muslim ethnic area say.
The plan aims to educate farmers and herdsmen, many of them already elderly, in poverty eradication and China’s “benevolent policies" in the region, official sources say. But many who attend the classes say they are being instructed instead in topics meant to counter religious extremism.
Two course tracks are offered, one presenting general information and the other aimed primarily at Uyghur families with relatives in jail, a farmer in western Xinjiang’s Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“Yes, the courses have already begun, and four or five people from our family are taking part,” the woman said, adding that though she and her husband are both already over 60 years of age, they are being made to participate along with her son and daughter-in-law.
“There is another course for people who have family members in jail, and my name is on that list, so I have to go to that one too,” she said.
“We study how to watch our children carefully, so that they don’t get involved in extremism. We also learn about politics,” the woman said.
“Before each class begins, we raise the Chinese flag,” she said.
“We now understand what extremism means and what is right and wrong,” another Aksu farmer said. “All of this has been poured into our brains.”
“We know now that it is wrong to send our children to religious schools,” he said.
“They also told us that we can no longer pray outside in the fields. We can only pray in government-designated mosques.”
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
China regularly vows to crack down on what it calls the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism in Xinjiang.
But experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur separatists, and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012.
Speaking to RFA, Munich-based World Uyghur Congress spokesman Dilxat Raxit described China’s new political education drive in Xinjiang as an effort to “put the farmers under full control and monitor their daily lives.”
“This will only increase tensions in the region,” he said.
“[Farmers] should have their own lives after they have finished their day’s work in the fields,” Raxit said. “There will be an adverse effect if things continue like this.”
Reported by Jilil Kashgary for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Richard Finney.