Jun 18, 2015

East Turkestan: Call for the Free Expression of Religious Activities

On the occasion of the start of the Ramadan, the Uyghur community calls for the end of all limitations of religious freedom. These continuous restrictions are trying to prevent the Uyghurs from practicing their Muslim faith and are increasing the division between the community and the rest of the Chinese population of the region. Only a few days ago, China announced that the Uyghurs would not be allowed to fast as they traditionally do during Ramadan.


Below is an article published by WUC:


As Muslims around the world begin to observe the holy month of Ramadan beginning on June 18th [2015], the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) calls on China to end its restrictions on fasting and other religious observances throughout the month. Setting aside the fact that these prohibitions are clearly in contravention of internationally recognized human rights law, they also serve only to deepen the division between Uyghurs and the rest of the Chinese community in East Turkestan and fuel further resentment of the state and its unreasonable policies.

The Uyghur community is rightly concerned that curbs on religious activity will pick up where they left off in 2014, with China making its annual attempt to quell the practice. China has increasingly been in the business of restricting religious freedoms during the holy month as it has previously done in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Government reports have already stated that government officials must swear not to fast or face the loss of their jobs. Likewise, party members, civil servants, students and teachers will also be prohibited from fasting during the day.

Back in June and July, 2014, school children and government workers were provided food and water in the middle of the day as a clear attempt to prohibit the practice. These measures clearly indicate the state’s intention to gradually chip away at Uyghur culture, and religion in particular. Restrictions have only so far extended to children and members of the public service, but it is certainly not inconceivable that they will extend to the general population in the near future.

Such restrictions remind us of the general attitude of the government towards religion in recent years. 2015 has been rife with cases ranging from mild prohibitions to the outright absurd. Back in March, 2015, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and of Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, cited “disturbing stories” that he had heard regarding Uyghur Muslims living in Xinjiang and argued that such treatment is “a major problem”.

Prohibitions on Islamic dress have emerged throughout the region as well as restrictions on the length of beards. In a further insult to the dignity of the Uyghur people, back in February, the government forced imams to dance in a public square and to swear to an oath that they will not teach religion to children.

In another bizarre case, on March 28, a Uyghur man from Kashgar was sentenced to six years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and growing a long beard – his wife was also given a two year sentence. The government also intends to publish an exhaustive list of approved places of worship, further limiting religious expression and effectively criminalizing religious activities outside of state sanctioned areas.

More recently, authorities in Laskuy township, Hotan Prefecture, gave an order that came into effect on May 1st, forcing Uyghur owners of shops and restaurants to sell cigarettes and alcohol, or face closure of their establishments and threats of prosecution.

The problem here continues to be a misdiagnosis of the root causes of instability – namely, the consistently discriminatory religious, linguistic and cultural restrictions on the Uyghur people. We must remember that by misdiagnosing the problem, we ensure that we will not reach an effective solution.

It is only through mutual respect and dialogue that the current conflict will be resolved in the long-term. Hostility and opprobrium are no longer practical means to resolve the tensions, so we urge both China and the international community to act sensibly to ensure that basic human rights are safeguarded and that meaningful action is taken.