Authorities in Xinjiang Require Special Permits to Buy Kitchen Knives

uyghur-butcher-march-2008.jpg A Uyghur butcher cuts up a sheep at a market in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi, in a file photo.

Authorities in northwestern China’s troubled Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are requiring residents to obtain special permits when purchasing kitchen knives and strictly controlling sales of bladed tools amid a crackdown on violence in the area following a spate of stabbing attacks, sources say.

According to an Aug. 26 notice issued by the municipal police department in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture’s Kashgar city, anyone who plans to buy a chef’s knife must provide their name, ethnicity, address, ID number and telephone number when applying for a permit.

The notice—a photo of which was circulated late last month using the popular WeChat messaging app and other social media sites—says applicants must also include the name of the location where they will make the purchase, how many knives they plan to buy, and an explanation of what they will use them for.

On the application, the number of kitchen knives “must be written in Chinese characters, not in numerals,” the notice says, while any permit “will only be valid on the date of issue.” Successful applicants will be given a copy of their permit, while the “original will be provided to the police station.”

Police officers from Kashgar’s South Liberation Road station, which signed the document, refused to speak with RFA reporters when asked about the new policy.

A Uyghur officer from the Nezerbagh township police station on the outskirts of Kashgar also refused to comment on the notice, but acknowledged that a special regulation is currently in place in the region to control the purchase and sale of tools with blades on them, as well as how the items are used.

Residents confirmed that sales of knives, axes, cleavers, and other sharp tools—including prized artisan blades produced in Kashgar’s Yengisar (Yingjisha) county—had dropped significantly in the region since 2014 due to the restrictions.

Abdukerim Akhon, a Uyghur butcher from neighboring Hoten (Hetian) prefecture’s Qaraqash (Moyu) county, told RFA that even professionals were being affected by the recent controls.

“The county government announced that all butchers’ knives must be shorter 15 centimeters (six inches),” said Akhon of Zawa township, adding that any knife of greater length “will be confiscated, and the owner punished accordingly.”

“This regulation is very strictly implemented in the seat of Qaraqash county—the police have a special device to check the length of knives and [whether they confirm to] other restrictions.”

Akhon said he had heard some police in the region were even “collecting all knives when butchers close their stores for the day and returning them the following morning,” adding that the restrictions were causing serious difficulties for people in his profession.

“We are professional butchers and our livelihoods have depended on our shops for several generations, but our predecessors never had to deal with these restrictions before,” he said.

“It is so inconvenient and stressful that I have decided to give up my work as a butcher and close my shop for good.”

Crackdown in the region

Police notice informing residents of Kashgar that special permits are required to purchase kitchen knives. Credit: WeChat
Police notice informing residents of Kashgar that special permits are required to purchase kitchen knives. Credit: WeChat
China has vowed to crack down on 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.

In late June, at least 18 people, and as many as 28, were killed in a knife and bomb attack by a group of ethnic Uyghurs on a police traffic checkpoint in the Tahtakoruk district of Kashgar city after the car they were in sped through a traffic checkpoint without stopping, sources told RFA.

The sources said the incident had been prompted by restrictions put in place by authorities a week after millions of Uyghurs began observance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, including pressure not to fast and a policy forbidding children under 18 from taking part in religious activities.

In May, the ethnic Han Chinese head of Layqa township, in Hoten prefecture’s Hotan county, was stabbed to death by a young Uyghur man, prompting a security clampdown in the area, sources said.

Uyghur groups in exile say such attacks are likely expressions of resistance to Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs complain of pervasive ethnic discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression by China’s communist government.

Rights groups accuse the 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.

Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Eset Sulaiman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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