The Chinese government is asking school children in the northwestern Xinjiang region to tell authorities who in their family prays, who wears a hijab, and who wears a beard, sources tell RFA’s Uyghur Service.
While the sources say all middle and high school students in Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) and Hotan (Hetian) prefectures are required to fill out a questionnaire telling authorities of their families’ religious activities, wardrobe and facial hair, the action appears to be directed at the region’s Muslim Uyghurs.
The hijab, a daily routine of prayer and a beard are all hallmarks of Muslim practices.
A Uyghur teacher from Aksu region, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFA that the regional educational department prepared a questionnaire that contains questions like: “Is there anybody in your house who prays? Is there anybody who wears a hijab or has a beard? What kind of religious activities do they conduct? What kind of religious books are there in your house?”
During a meeting about the form, Chinese authorities told educators that it was designed to curb the religious and separatist ideology of students entering the schools, the sources told RFA.
‘They tell us not to do any religious activities’
A student from a Kashgar village and a guard at the village school in Hotan’s Lop county confirmed the questionnaire’s existence and contents, but said that similar forms have been issued before.
“After we finish filling out the form, we take it to school, and the school collects them,” said the student who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
“They do it every year,’ the student explained. “We are on summer break, but we are gathered at the school every Friday, and they tell us not to do any religious activities and such.”
The guard, who also declined to be identified, told RFA that the questionnaire has to be stamped by authorities and presented at the school.
“There should be stamps on it,” the guard said. “Both police and government. The students bring in the forms themselves. They are in Uyghur for the Uyghur students and Chinese for the Chinese students.”
Attempts by RFA to reach higher authorities about the questionnaire were unsuccessful.
China has vowed to crack down on what it calls religious extremism in Xinjiang, and regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.
But experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur "separatists" and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2012.
Written by Gulchehra Ghoja for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.