Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang region are doubling down on a bid to prevent Muslim Uyghurs from fasting and praying during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan by embedding Chinese officials in their homes, according to official sources.
While authorities in Xinjiang have typically forced restaurants to stay open and restricted access to mosques during Ramadan to discourage traditional observation of the holy month, officials in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture said the local government is taking more drastic steps this year and assigning ruling Chinese Communist Party cadres to each Uyghur family for monitoring purposes.
They told RFA’s Uyghur Service that in addition to regular home searches, the Hotan government had launched a campaign called “Together in Five Things” a day ahead of this year’s May 26 to June 24 Ramadan period, during which Chinese officials will stay with each Uyghur household for up to 15 days to make sure residents neither fast nor pray.
“Inspections are conducted during iftar [a meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan] when houses with lights on are checked—that is how we carry out patrols and inspections,” a police officer in Hotan city told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Designated cadres visit the home of each family every day, he added, and every ten cadres report to a higher level official.
“Furthermore, we had a special arrangement … this year called the ‘Together in Five Things’ campaign, [through which cadres and Uyghur families] worked together, dined together, and stayed in the same home together,” the officer said, without specifying the other two “things” that rounded out the initiative.
“It’s all about keeping close to the people. During this period, they [officials] will get to know the lives of the people, assist in their daily activities—such as farming—and propagate laws and regulations, party and government ethnic and religious policies, and so on,” he said.
“They stay at farmers’ homes to inquire after their ideological views.”
According to the officer, the campaign in Hotan city began on May 25 and lasted until June 3.
A farmer in Hotan’s Qaraqash (Moyu) county, who also asked to remain unnamed, told RFA that cadres had also been embedded in his village since the day before Ramadan began.
“We have cadres from different government organs, including from [the Xinjiang capital] Urumqi, and other places,” he said.
“They will be here for [up to] 15 days and have been constantly telling us not to fast. It is impossible for us to fast or pray.”
And an official in Hotan who asked that the name of his village be withheld said that the “Together in Five Things” campaign was also underway in his area, while speaking with RFA by telephone.
“The cadres are staying in the farmers’ homes right now—one cadre in every home,” he said.
“First, they will make sure there is no [unsanctioned] religious practice [in the home]. Second, they will observe [the families]. But I don’t know any other details.”
Pledge for Ramadan
Additionally, sources said, authorities are forcing Uyghur cadres, civil servants and government retirees who draw a pension to sign a document pledging that they will neither fast nor pray during Ramadan, ostensibly to set an example to other Uyghurs in the community.
While such a pledge is common during Ramadan for government employees in Xinjiang, the sources said that this year, those who sign the document must also assume responsibility for ensuring that none of their friends or family members fast or pray either.
“We all signed a letter of responsibility guaranteeing that we won’t fast,” an auxiliary police officer based in Hotan city told RFA, speaking anonymously.
“Most of the content [in the letter] is the same as last year. However, this year we are required to monitor our families, our neighbors, and even the families that we are responsible for, and persuade them not to fast.”
The auxiliary officer said he and his coworkers signed the pledge on June 2.
A Uyghur graduate student based in the U.S., who also asked not to be named, told RFA that his father is a civil servant in Xinjiang and had instructed him not to fast after signing the pledge.
“My grandfather is a very pious person who went to Mecca for Hajj [Muslim pilgrimage] and had always instructed us in religious teachings—it is our family tradition to pray, fast and celebrate Ramadan,” he said.
“But this time, not only is my father not fasting, but he even asked my grandparents not to fast because he signed the letter of responsibility.”
Ahead of Ramadan this year, sources told RFA that authorities in Xinjiang’s Aksu (Akesu) prefecture had ordered restaurants to stay open during the holy month as part of a “stability maintenance” measures, suggesting efforts to undermine the Muslim tradition of fasting.
Separately, students in Hotan’s Qaraqash county were ordered to gather on Fridays to “collectively study, watch red [communist propaganda] films, and conduct sports activities” in a way to “enrich their social life during the summer vacation.”
Fridays are customarily prayer days at mosques, while those who go without food between dawn and dusk during Ramadan rarely have the energy to take part in sports events, suggesting authorities may be trying to prevent the largely Muslim ethnic Uyghur inhabitants of Aksu and Hotan from observing the holy month according to Islamic tradition.
Beijing has been cracking down on what it calls religious extremism in Xinjiang, with authorities conducting regular “strike hard” campaigns including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
While China blames some Uyghurs for "terrorist" attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
Reported by Gulchehra Hoja for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma and Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.