The government of China has imposed a ban on fasting for teachers, students and civil servants in the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang.
Xinjiang is located in northwest China where Uyghur Muslims constitute 58 percent of the population. The region is referred to by Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking minority, as East Turkestan.
An announcement on a local Chinese government website stated “party members, cadres, civil servants, students, and minors must not fast for Ramadan and must not take part in religious activities." The statement continued, “food and drink businesses must not close.”
The ban on religious activities means these groups are prohibited from entering mosques as well.
Chinese authorities have also mandated the residents of Ili Prefecture, which is part of Xinjiang, to provide fingerprints, DNA samples, voiceprints and a “three-dimensional image” in order to apply for passports.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, has condemned the ban. Raxit told the Khaleej Times, “China thinks that the Islamic faith of Uyghurs threatens the rule of Beijing leadership.”
The Muslim Uyghur population in Xinjiang, which is 10 million strong, has been subject to years of religious and cultural oppression by the Chinese government. This systematic crackdown on religious freedoms has led to clashes between the Uyghurs and the Chinese government.
The 2009 Urumqi riots in Xinjiang illustrated the government’s heavy handed approach in dealing with dissent.
A report by Amnesty International in 2012 stated hundreds of Uyghurs were arrested in the wake of the riots and subsequently disappeared. It said that the government continues intimidation tactics against families seeking information on their missing relatives.
Uyghurs fleeing oppression have found a safe haven in Turkey, where thousands have been granted asylum. Turkey has voiced its support of Uyghur refugees saying, “Turkey is open to valid asylum claims by victims of repression who reach its territory.”
Turkey maintains a strong bond with the Uyghurs; when the Uyghur-Chinese riots broke out in 2009, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan complained that Beijing was presiding over “a kind of genocide.”
In a speech to ambassadors in Ankara in 2015, Erdogan said, “We have kin in every corner in the world. From the Balkans to Central Asia, from Crimea to North Africa. All incidents, which take place in every single region, directly concern us.”
The first Arabic compendium of the Turkic language was compiled for the Caliph in Baghdad in the 11th century by a scholar from Kashgar, an oasis town on the Silk Road, now a city in Xinjiang, whose historic quarter has been largely destroyed by Chinese authorities in recent years.