Oct 18, 2006

East Turkestan: China Defends Control over Religion

China has waged a campaign against Muslim Uighur activists saying they were using religion as an excuse to foment separatism.

China defended its crackdown against Muslim Uighur activists in its far-northwestern region of Xinjiang yesterday, saying they were using religion as an excuse to foment separatism.
China has waged a campaign against such activists — many of whom chafe at central government controls on religious freedom and some of whom advocate an independent East Turkestan — labelling them foreign-backed terrorists.

“Anti-terrorism has nothing to do with religion,” said Wang Lequan, the Communist Party boss in the oil-rich region.

“The reason for the two being connected is because separatists always use religion as an excuse to pursue damaging activities. These people are not the faithful followers of the Islamic religion,” he told a news conference.

Xinjiang is home to 8mn Uighurs, a largely Islamic people who share linguistic and cultural bonds with neighbouring Central Asia. Many resent the growing Han Chinese presence in the region, as well as government controls on religion and culture.

Uighur residents complain that their children are not allowed to receive religious education even at home, and students, government officials and employees of some companies say they cannot show any visible signs of religious affiliation, such as beards or headscarves. But Wang said the government’s main concern was not protecting culture but raising standards of living in the largely desert region.

“The bottom line is that cultural life is based on people having enough to eat. If people cannot eat enough, nobody can sing or dance,” he said.

Wang also criticised Uighur businesswoman-turned-activist Rebiya Kadeer, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize awarded last week.

Kadeer left for the United States last year after spending more than five years in jail in China on charges of providing state secrets to foreigners, and has become a major force in the Uighur community overseas.

Wang said Kadeer, 58, was guilty of business malpractices and betraying her country, and that her nomination for the prize, which went to microfinance pioneer Mohamed Yunus, was ridiculous.