China has sent more than 350 officials to Hotan (Hetian, in Chinese) prefecture in the northwestern region of Xinjiang for a three-year stint monitoring mosques, RFA’s Uyghur Service has learned.
According to a report by the Hotan government’s local TV station, the prefecture recently launched a policy called “staying in villages to monitor mosques” where 352 Chinese cadres are assigned to keep an eye on the mosques and the people’s religious activities.
“This mosque-monitoring decision is made according to the Uyghur Autonomous Region’s foremost policy directive and principal to maintain social stability and analyze the situation correctly,” the TV station quoted the prefecture’s Communist Party boss Zhang Jinbiao as saying.
“We have six of them in our village,” a villager from Hotan told RFA, referring to the cadres. “This morning they called a meeting, and we met four of them. They are all Chinese.”
The villager, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were told the cadres were in the area on a three-year mission.
“From what they said in the meeting, they will manage the Imams of the mosques and they will conduct house-to-house visits to gain a grasp of the situation,” the villager explained.
While it is unclear exactly what the Chinese are looking for, the villager told RFA they are likely to concentrate their efforts on the region’s malcontents.
“There are people who complain about the government’s policies, who don’t like the government-appointed Imams and religious people, and who curse them and who spread various rumors,” the villager said. “I think they will go to those kinds of peoples’ homes and try to understand their thoughts and situation.”
An 'extreme policy'
Turghunjan Alawudun, chair of the World Uyghur Congress’s religion committee, said the Chinese action violates the U.N.’s human rights resolutions.
He said the Chinese government’s current policies in Uyghur region are against U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“The Hotan prefecture party boss’s current policy to monitor religious activities in the villages is part of the Chinese Communist Party’s directive to exploit religion for socialism,” he said. “We urge the Chinese government to end this extreme policy.”
Beijing has implemented strict rules in Xinjiang forbidding anyone under the age of 18 from following a religion, levying hefty fines against families whose children study the Quran or fast during Ramadan.
Parents and guardians of Uyghur children and teens are frequently pressured by local officials into signing pledges promising not to allow them to take part in any religious activity.
Muslim members of the ruling Chinese Communist Party are forbidden to openly follow their religion, while state-run organizations are routinely ordered to encourage everyone to eat during the daylight hours of Ramadan, sources in the region have told RFA.
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.
While China blames Uyghur extremists 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 Irade for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by by Mamatjan Juma and Irade. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.