Government offices, hospitals and schools in China's Muslim northwest have been ordered to not take part in traditional activities to celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
"Several government departments in China's western region of Xinjiang have banned Muslim staff from fasting during Ramadan. The region is home to the Uyghur ethnic minority, most of whom are Muslim." (Via BBC)
The BBC reports statements posted Wednesday on several government agency and school websites warned employees and students not to take part in fasting or other religious activities for Ramadan, which started over the weekend.
The International Business Times quotes a message from the state-run Bozhou Radio and TV University. It warned the ban will extend to "party members, teachers, and young people from taking part in Ramadan activities. ... We remind everyone that they are not permitted to observe a Ramadan fast."
The Xinjiang Tarin River Basin Management Bureau's website posted a photo of Uyghur Muslims eating a large meal together. The accompanying caption reads, "Although the meal coincided with the Muslim festival of Ramadan, the cadres who took part expressed a positive attitude and will lead the non-fasting."
Western news outlets have addressed the ban as an ill-advised punishment, while several Chinese outlets seem to have little to no coverage on the subject. (Via The Washington Post, International Business Times, Quartz, Xinhua)
The ban isn't anything new for Xinjiang. As Al Bawaba points out, Beijing has outlawed fasting during Ramadan several times in the past, saying it wants to ensure the health of government employees.
But this most recent ban is particularly sensitive due to the fact that Xinjiang is under tight security after enduring several attacks the government believes were orchestrated by Muslim Uyghur extremists.
Xinjiang, also known as East Turkestan, is home to about 10 million Uyghurs. The group is a Turkic speaking, largely Muslim ethnic minority that demands total independence from Beijing. (Via Euronews)
This demand has caused regular clashes between the Uyghurs and state security forces. China's government has even blamed the group recent attacks elsewhere in the country on the group. (Via Arirang)
But rights groups say the tension is the result of the religious and cultural restrictions placed on the Uyghur and other minorities in the region.
A spokesperson for the now exiled World Uyghur Congress said in a statement authorities are inspecting homes to check if people are observing the fast. "China taking these kind of coercive measures, restricting the faith of Uygurs, will create more conflict."
A writer for The Washington Post seems to agree. "China's terrorism problem seems to be getting worse, and two of the biggest reasons are the repression and marginalization of the [Uygur] people. It seems unlikely that clamping down on Ramadan — again — will make that any better."
Xinjiang saw some of its most violent clashes back in July 2009 between the Han Chinese and the Uygurs. Nearly 200 people died in the region's capital.