WASHINGTON – Restricting their freedom to mosque worshipping, Chinese authorities are imposing stifling restrictions on Uighur Muslims to practice their religion.
"What we found is there is a bewildering number of regulations that Uighurs face every day,” Henryk Szadziewski, a co-author of a study on the situation on Uighur Muslims, told a panel discussion in the US Congress cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Thursday, May 30.
“There is confusion and people are not too sure what is legal and what isn't.”
The study, by the US-based Uighur Human Rights Project, listed a series of repressive government measures against Uighurs in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
It found that Uighur Muslims are not allowed to enter mosques if they were under 18 years or employed by the government.
The restrictions are further tightened during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
During the holy month, restaurants are forced by local authorities to stay open during the day.
The study, which is based on witness interviews, also said that government workers are also pressured to eat during the fasting month.
It also revealed that Uighur Muslims wearing Islamic attire as veils or growing beards are banned from entering certain buildings as public assistance offices.
"The fact is that even customary practices are being questioned," Szadziewski said.
The study called on China to end its restrictions and to allow an independent Islamic scholar body as well as to include Uighur representatives on bodies that govern religion.
Uighur Muslims are a Turkish-speaking minority of eight million in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
Xinjiang, which activists call East Turkestan, has been autonomous since 1955 but continues to be the subject of massive security crackdowns by Chinese authorities.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of religious repression against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang in the name of counter terrorism.
Muslims accuse the government of settling millions of ethnic Han in their territory with the ultimate goal of obliterating its identity and culture.
Analysts say the policy of transferring Han Chinese to Xinjiang to consolidate Beijing's authority has increased the proportion of Han in the region from five percent in the 1940s to more than 40 percent now.
Chinese authorities, however, play down complaints of Uighur Muslims in the fear western region.
"There is mutual respect by Han cadres and ethnic minorities, and we are friends,” deputy Xinjiang governor Shi Dagang was quoted as saying by Reuters.
“When we go into their houses as guests we are treated to meat and wine, with song and dance.
"The ethnic minorities are simple-hearted and honest, very kind and unaffected. They love guests," he added.
"I hope people don't have misapprehensions and go to Xinjiang and see for themselves."
Last month, 21 people were killed in clashes in the heavily ethnic Uighur part of Xinjiang near the old Silk Road city of Kashgar.
Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, was also the scene of deadly violence in July 2009 when the mainly Muslim Uighur minority vented resentment over Chinese restrictions in the region.
In the following days, mobs of angry ethnic Han took to the streets looking for revenge in the worst ethnic violence that China had seen in decades.
Chinese authorities had convicted about 200 people, mostly Uighurs, over the riots and sentenced 26 of them to death.Beijing views the vast region of Xinjiang as an invaluable asset because of its crucial strategic location near Central Asia and its large oil and gas reserves.
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