Chinese county bans schoolchildren from mosques
Authorities in a Muslim-majority county in northwest China have banned schoolchildren from going to mosques during their winter holidays, a state-run daily reported on Friday, the latest tightening of regulations on religious freedoms. The decision was outlined in a notice sent to all high schools, primary schools and kindergartens in Gansu province's Guanghe county, according to the Global Times.
"Schools should require students to not enter religious venues for activities, nor attend scripture schools or religious venues for reading scripture during winter holiday," the notice read, according to the Global Times. "Schools of all levels and kinds should further strengthen ideological and political work and enhance publicity work in order to inform each student and parent," it continued.
The notice was confirmed to the newspaper by the county's local publicity department. It was not clear why the restrictions were being enforced during the holidays. Some 98 percent of Guanghe's 257,000 residents are ethnic minorities, many from the mostly Muslim Hui and Dongxiang groups, according to the county government's website. An image of what appeared to be the notice circulated online, though journalists were unable to confirm its authenticity.
China's Uighur heartland turns into security state
China says it faces a serious threat from Islamist extremists in its Xinjiang region. Beijing accuses separatists among the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority of stirring up tensions with the ethnic Han Chinese majority. By Nadine Berghausen
Economy or security? China routinely denies pursuing repressive policies in Xinjiang and points to the vast sums it spends on economic development in the resource-rich region. James Leibold, an expert on Chinese ethnic policy says the focus on security runs counter to Beijing's goal of using the OBOR initiative to boost Xinjiang's economy, because it would disrupt the flow of people and ideas
China's far western Xinjiang region ramps up security: three times a day, alarms ring out through the streets of China's ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar and shopkeepers rush out of their stores swinging government-issued wooden clubs. In mandatory anti-terror drills conducted under police supervision, they fight off imaginary knife-wielding assailants
One Belt, One Road Initiative: an ethnic Uighur man walks down the path leading to the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamakan Desert. A historic trading post, the city of Kashgar is central to China's "One Belt, One Road Initiative", which is President Xi Jinping's signature foreign and economic policy involving massive infrastructure spending linking China to Asia, the Middle East and beyond
China fears disruption of "One Belt, One Road" summit: a man herds sheep in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. China's worst fears are that a large-scale attack would blight this year's diplomatic set piece, an OBOR summit attended by world leaders planned for Beijing. Since ethnic riots in the regional capital Urumqi in 2009, Xinjiang has been plagued by bouts of deadly violence
Ethnic minority in China: a woman prays at a grave near the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamankan Desert. Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking distinct and mostly Sunni Muslim community and one of the 55 recognised ethnic minorities in China. Although Uighurs have traditionally practiced a moderate version of Islam, experts believe that some of them have been joining Islamic militias in the Middle East
Communist Party vows to continue war on terror: Chinese state media say the threat remains high, so the Communist Party has vowed to continue its "war on terror" against Islamist extremism. For example, Chinese authorities have passed measures banning many typically Muslim customs. The initiative makes it illegal to "reject or refuse" state propaganda, although it was not immediately clear how the authorities would enforce this regulation
CCTV cameras are being installed: many residents say the anti-terror drills are just part of an oppressive security operation that has been ramped up in Kashgar and other cities in Xinjiang's Uighur heartland in recent months. For many Uighurs it is not about security, but mass surveillance. "We have no privacy. They want to see what you're up to," says a shop owner in Kashgar
Ban on many typically Muslim customs: the most visible change is likely to come from the ban on "abnormal growing of beards," and the restriction on wearing veils. Specifically, workers in public spaces, including stations and airports, will be required to "dissuade" people with veils on their faces from entering and report them to the police
Security personnel keep watch: authorities offer rewards for those who report "youth with long beards or other popular religious customs that have been radicalised", as part of a wider incentive system that rewards actionable intelligence on imminent attacks. Human rights activists have been critical of the tactics used by the government in combatting the alleged extremists, accusing it of human rights abuses
Guanghe is located within the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture.
The Linxia prefecture education bureau told journalists that they had no knowledge of the matter, while the Guanghe county propaganda department hung up the phone.
In May 2016, Gansu's education bureau issued a notice stating that religious activities were forbidden in schools after a video of a kindergartener from Linxia reciting the Koran went viral, according to the Global Times. China's officially atheist Communist authorities are wary of any organised movements outside their control, including religious ones.
Beijing has stepped up its crackdown on civil society since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012, tightening restrictions on freedom of speech and jailing hundreds of activists and lawyers. The constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief, a principle that Beijing says it upholds.
But an annual report from the U.S. State Department released last year said that in 2016, China "physically abused, detained, arrested, tortured, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups".
Beijing says it is facing a growing threat from domestic cults and radical Islam, but critics have accused Beijing of a broader pattern of harassment, detention and abuse.
The mosque ban comes as authorities prepare to implement from 1 February new regulations intensifying punishments for unsanctioned religious activities and increasing state supervision of certain groups in a bid to "block extremism" and tackle what it sees as internal threats.
In China's far western Xinjiang region, the mostly Muslim Uighur population has struggled with increasingly strict curbs on their faith, including bans on beards and public prayers. (AFP)
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