East Turkestan: Chinese Uighurs Defy Ramadan Ban
Chinese authorities have imposed restrictions on Uighur Muslims during the month of Ramadan, banning government employees and school children from fasting, in what rights groups say has become an annual attempt at systematically erasing the region's Islamic identity.
The article below is taken from Al Jazeera
Chinese authorities have justified the ban on fasting by saying it is meant to protect the health of students, and restrictions on religious practices by government officials are meant to ensure the state does not support any particular faith.
Yet in Kashgar, in Xinjiang province, China's westernmost city, close to the border with Tajikstan and Kyrgyztan, Uighur Muslims say the restrictions have backfired. Not only have locals become more observant of Islamic practices, but many have found ways to flaunt Chinese laws restricting everything from who may attend the mosque, to which copies of the Quran are read.
"That is Mao ZeDong," said Omar, a taxi driver, pointing to a 24m-tall statue of the founder of the People's Republic of China, as he navigates his taxi through traffic across People's Square. "He brought all the Chinese here," he added, out of earshot of the soldiers lining up across the street.
A few minutes later, the soldiers pile into trucks and move to the city's commercial centre down the road, where police frisk shoppers at the entrance to a shopping mall. Across Kashgar, security forces have been deployed to thwart potential attacks by Uighur militants seeking to wrestle control of Xinjiang province from Beijing.
Home to some of China's largest deposits of oil, natural gas, and coal, Xinjiang has a majority Muslim Uighur population - a Turkic ethnic group with a language and culture closer to Central Asia. Before the region was absorbed into the People's Republic of China in 1949, almost everyone here was Uighur, but the numbers have have since declined, dropping to below half by the year 2000, as tens of millions of Han Chinese - the majority population of mainland China - were encouraged to settle here by the government.
That demographic shift, which accelerated in the 1990s as Beijing began to develop Xinjiang, combined with Chinese laws restricting Islamic practices by Uighurs and the 1997 execution of 30 Uighur separatists by Chinese authorities, triggered a wave of violence by militants that has left hundreds of people dead, mostly civilians.
Last month, a suicide bomber killed 39 people in the provincial capitol of Urumqi, and police claimed to have killed 13 men who attempted to ram an explosives-laden vehicle into their office near Kashgar.
The deadly violence - including an attack by knife-wielding men at a train station in Kuming that killed 29 in March - has sparked a massive crackdown by Beijing, with authorities announcing the convictions of more than 400 people across Xinjiang. Last Wednesday, Kashgar authorities announced 113 people had been sentenced for crimes, including supporting terrorism and inciting ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination.
"The government says every Uighur, if they have a beard or wear a hijab, they are a terrorist," said Abdul Majid, who owns a mobile phone shop near People's Square. He says the last time tensions were this high was in 2009, after 184 people died in clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese in Urumqi.
Photo by @ Loic Brohard