URUMQI – Authorities in China's Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang are offering cash rewards to informants who report on their neighbors for wearing beards, Chinese state media has reported.
"That's a lot of money for Uighurs in the south [of the region]," Alim Seytoff, spokesman for the Uighur rights advocacy group World Uyghur Congress (WUC), told Al Jazeera on Friday, April 25.
“There they are very poor. This is an incentive to betray their fellow Uighurs to get some financial gain.”
|Uighurs Chafe Under Religious Restrictions|
The Muslim leader was commenting on the Chinese government recent move by officials in Shaya county to issue a notice offering amounts ranging from 50 to more than 50,000 yuan ($8 to $8,000) for informants who report on their neighbors who grow beards, the Global Times said on Thursday.
The move by the Chinese local authorities is not the first attempt to suppress signs on Muslim religiosity in the past.
Last August, Arzugul Memet was forced by Chinese authorities to evict her rented property in the northwestern region of Xinjiang for wearing a face veil.
Xinjiang authorities have also launched a campaign labeled Project Beauty, which attempts to discourage locals from wearing veils - a common practice among Uighur women.
But, for Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, it is first time officials are comfortable enough to announce such measures in an English-language publication geared toward foreigners.
"What is new and extremely worrying [is that] the Chinese government is so bent on suppressing Uighur Islam that it thinks it's appropriate to make public these restrictions and to sketch out what behavior is considered suspect by the state," Bequelin told Al Jazeera.
WUC's Seytoff said he contacted Human Rights Watch days ago with reports of the restrictions.
He added that WUC's communications have been compromised by Chinese intelligence, and that the Chinese media report was likely an attempt to establish Beijing's stance ahead of any claims that would be made by the international human rights watchdog.
Xinjiang 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, a Turkish-speaking minority of eight million, in Xinjiang in the name of counter terrorism.
Muslims accuses the government of settling millions of ethnic Han in their territory with the ultimate goal of obliterating its identity and culture.
And 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.
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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