As the countdown begins for Muharram, Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang are being told to shun their religion. Virtually.
“Three Illegals and One Item” campaign under way dubs as illegal copies of the Holy Quran, remote-controlled toys, large knives and inflammable items.
Handover copies of Holy Quran, prayer mat, and the like, the Chinese officials have told them bluntly. “Abide by the directives or face punitive action”, say the announcements through local mosques and in the neighbourhoods, where mostly Muslims of the Uighur, Kyrgyz and Kazakh origins reside, according to media reports from Kashgar, Hotan and other areas.
A spokesperson for the World Uighur Conference said police were making these announcements through a social media platform.
Earlier this year, the Chinese officials had seized all copies of the Holy Quran which were published more than five years ago, claiming these could contain material relating to ‘extremism’.
The increasingly strict curbs have stifled life for the Muslims. Beards are banned. No one is allowed to pray in public.
Media reports term Uyghur Muslim dominated Xinjiang region as a police state.
During Eid festival in July, the government used the multiple checkpoints encircling the city to prevent travellers to Kashgar from joining Eid prayers.
Beijing justifies these restrictions and heavy police presence as a necessity to control the spread of separatist movements.
The government began ramping up security and religious restrictions in Xinjiang in 2009, following a series of riots in the regional capital Urumqi that left around 200 dead. In March, President Xi Jinping ordered security forces to build a “great wall of steel” around the region after Uyghurs claiming to belong to a division of the Islamic State group in Iraq threatened to return home and “shed blood like rivers”.
Over the last year, Beijing has flooded Xinjiang with tens of thousands of security personnel, placed police stations on nearly every block, and rolled out tough regulations aimed at “eliminating extremism”.
Analysts warn that Xinjiang is becoming no more than an open air prison. China is “essentially creating a police state of unprecedented scale,” said James Leibold, an expert on Chinese security at Australia’s La Trobe University.