Rabat – Amnesty International has launched a petition to help Muslims in China’s western Xinjiang province observe Ramadan.
The Amnesty petition page reminds readers of China’s repression of the predominantly Muslims ethnic minority, Uyghurs, in the province.
For Chinese authorities in Xinjiang, some displays of religious affiliation are considered as “signs of extremism.” These include fasting, growing an “abnormal beard,” wearing a headscarf, praying regularly, and avoiding alcohol.
According to Amnesty, any of these can lead to imprisonment in camps called “transformation-through-education centres.” These camps aim to replace religious beliefs and aspects of cultural identity with political loyalty for the government.
The government discourages Muslim religious and cultural practices.
According to Amnesty, Chinese authorities have regularly posted notices on government websites that primary and high school students are not allowed to observe Ramadan.
In April 2017, the government reportedly published a list of prohibited names, most of which were Islamic in origin, and required all children under 16 with these names to change them.
Last year, Radio Free Asia reported that during Ramadan, the authorities forced restaurants to stay open and restricted access to mosques, Amnesty added.
Petition for protecting religious freedom
Amnesty is petitioning for the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to urge Chinese authorities to respect Uyghurs’ freedom of religion and to stop persecuting them.
The OIC is an international organisation of 57 Muslim-majority countries. Its IPHRC aims to protect and promote human rights in the Muslim World.
At a meeting in Abu Dhabi in March, the OIC turned a blind eye to the situation of Uyghurs, stating that it “commends the efforts of the People’s Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens.”
Xinjiang province borders Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan. the region is home to a predominantly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group.
The province is also a political hotspot. It has the highest concentration of fossil fuels in China and is therefore extremely valuable to the Chinese government. The region’s economic opportunities have attracted Han Chinese people from the rest of the country. Supported by the government, Han Chinese are allegedly given better jobs, causing ethnic tension.
Uyghurs are culturally and ethnically closer to Central Asian countries and some seek independence.
The anti-Han independence movement intensified in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of independent Muslim states in Central Asia. But the Chinese government suppressed the movement.
Sporadic ethnic violence has since occasionally flared up. In 2009, 200 people were killed in ethnic rioting. 2014 was particularly violent, with a number of bomb incidents, shootings, and knife attacks between ethnic groups and Chinese authorities.