China Orders Residents of Xinjiang To Attend Weekly Flag-Raising Ceremonies

ghulja-map-305.jpg Gulja is the capital of Ili prefecture in China's northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have ordered local residents to show up at a weekly patriotic flag-raising ceremony and sing the national anthem, in a bid to boost loyalty to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

The Bulat neighborhood committee in Dadamtu village, near Gulja city (Yining in Chinese), issued a notice to its residents along with a demand that they participate in national flag-raising ceremonies every Monday.

"Each resident will present themselves at a place designated by the neighborhood committee at 10.00 a.m. Beijing time every Monday morning ... to attend the national flag-raising ceremony," the notice said.

"During the ceremony, they will stand up straight in tidy lines, facing forwards, and sing the national anthem in strong voices," the notice said.

"There will be no random wandering around or private conversation during the flag-raising."

Smart dress is required, the notice said, with "scarves, veils, and sunglasses" forbidden, and no flip-flops, vests or shorts allowed.

In a second notice issued at the same time, the committee ordered local residents to notify the authorities of all planned naming ceremonies, marriages, deaths and circumcisions of male children ahead of time, the notice, a copy of which was seen by RFA, said.

"Families wishing to hold baby-namings, circumcisions, weddings or funerals must of their own accord inform their local [neighborhood officials] and the Communist Party branch secretary beforehand," the notice said.

Calls to the Dadamtu village government, and to the Bulat neighborhood committee rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.

A police officer in Gulja county, however, told RFA's Uyghur service said the flag-raising ceremonies have been going on "everywhere" for the past month.

"We do the flag raising ceremony in our  courtyard. Others do it in their respective work places. But the citizens do it in the neighborhood committees.  It is everywhere. We do not know how the people who fail to attend the ceremony would be dealt with," said the policeman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Deliberately targeting Uyghurs?

But the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, a diaspora organization, said it feared the new rules are deliberately targeting the mostly Muslim, Turkic Uyghur ethnic group, many of whom are unhappy with Chinese rule.

Spokesman Dilxat Raxit told RFA that similar rules have been issued elsewhere in Xinjiang too.

"All towns and villages now have a flag-raising ceremony and oaths of loyalty," Raxit told RFA.

"These sorts of political campaigns are putting an added burden on local people, because they basically consist of brainwashing," he said.

"It's not just in the villages, either; they are also happening in mosques as well," Raxit said.

A Han Chinese resident of Xinjiang, who gave only his surname Zhang, said flag-raising ceremonies are long-established in institutions like schools, government departments and party-backed civil organizations.

"Now they are starting to make them a requirement for residents, which means that they are highly political and highly ideological in nature," Zhang said.

"They are trying to exact absolute loyalty."

'Insult to ordinary citizens'

Zhang said the performance of local-level government officials  is now judged on how much store they set by such activities.

"This is an insult to ordinary citizens, and yet another curb on their freedom," he said.

Dadamtu is home to some 25,000 people from around 14 different ethnic groups, of whom around 67 percent are Uyghurs and just 10 percent Han Chinese, according to local government information.

Raxit said the requirement to report circumcisions was also a move aimed at monitoring which Uyghur families were the most religiously observant.

"All of these activities like naming a child, circumcision and so on are a form of religious activity," he said. "To require them to report all circumcisions to the government ... means that they have to get government approval before they can get an imam to carry them out."

"They are worried that lots of people will gather at such events, without any surveillance," he added.

The Chinese government has rolled out an ongoing "strike hard" anti-terrorism campaign in Xinjiang following a deadly suicide bombing in May 2014 in the regional capital Urumqi, which they blamed on Uyghur separatists.

However, Uyghurs complain about pervasive ethnic discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression by Beijing, which says it is targeting "separatism, religious extremism and terrorism."

Critics say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur "separatists" and that draconian domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012.

The campaign has included police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Gulchehra Hoja for the Uyghur Service . Translated by and Luisetta Mudie and Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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