An ethnic Uyghur cadre in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region has been fired from her post for holding her wedding ceremony at home according to Islamic traditions instead of at a government-sanctioned venue, local officials and residents said.
Salamet Memetimin, the communist party secretary for Chaka township’s Bekchan village, in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture’s Chira (Cele) county, was among 97 officials recently charged with disciplinary violations, according to an April 10 report by the state-run Hotan Daily newspaper.
Memetimin was demoted on March 23, the report said, without providing details.
But according to a Uyghur farmer from the area, who recently spoke with RFA’s Uyghur Service on condition of anonymity, Memetimin was relieved of her duties for undertaking her marriage vows—known as “nikah” in Muslim culture—at her own home.
“These days, practices such as holding one’s wedding vows at one’s home are becoming a thing of the past, and everything is done according to the law,” she said.
“Weddings are currently held under the supervision of our village chiefs—they are the ones who get the marriage certificates from the police station … on our behalf. The wedding ceremonies even need to be held in the village [government] offices.”
The farmer said that local officials had been requiring wedding ceremonies to be held in village offices or in other venues provided by the township government for “a year or so.”
“I was married three years ago, but at that time my husband was not a party member yet, so we were able to hold our nikah [at home],” she said.
A Han Chinese official from Bekchan village confirmed to RFA that weddings cannot be held in homes “in the southern Uyghur region.”
“It is very clearly written in the government directive—you cannot have your vows at your own house, so that is why they were charged,” said the official, who also asked not to be named.
“In attendance at a wedding should be the village party branch secretary and a specially-appointed religious leader. You can take your vows, as long as it is under the close supervision of those two people.”
According to the official, if wedding vows are taken at home, unsanctioned religious leaders “might promote deviant views that contradict ethnic unity and the sovereignty of the county.”
Three days prior to the wedding, couples must submit an application to the township government and, if permission is granted, the event can be hosted by the local party chief at the village “service home,” he said.
“It’s like that in every part of Hotan these days.”
Several county governments in Hotan have bolstered “anti-terror” security measures since February, when authorities shot dead three Uyghurs who attacked passersby with knives in Guma (Pishan) county, killing five and injuring five others.
Sources have told RFA that the three attackers appear to have been motivated by anger at threats by local officials to punish them for praying with their families.
Other residents of Bekchan village told RFA that important cultural traditions such as nikah ceremonies are viewed with suspicion by local officials and have been all but wiped out in many parts of Xinjiang.
“If you want to undergo marriage vows, you must do it according to law—conducted by an approved person, such as a government-designated religious figure,” one resident said.
“If you invite unsanctioned officiants on your own, it’s deemed illegal and will be punished.”
Another resident said that while some of the cultural traditions remain, holding wedding ceremonies at village offices has made the events less joyful.
“The reception and celebration—with singing and dancing—is held in village office, but then afterwards, everyone returns to their homes,” the resident said.
“Most of the cultural costumes [and other traditions] associated with marriages have been eliminated, and very few remain.”
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 Mihray Abdilim for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.