Urumqi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Xinjiang government has ordered the closure of mosques for Friday prayer. The official reason is for the safety of the inhabitants, still fearful of finding itself caught between belligerent groups of Han Chinese or Uyghurs but in reality the suspicion is that the places of prayer are used to instigate the revolt.
Urumqi mosques are guarded by soldiers and signs inviting the faithful to pray at home have been hung on the buildings. Despite this, a Xinjiang government spokesman has said that "all religious activities should carry on as normal."
The city is quiet, but it is being patrolled by tens of thousands of armed soldiers. The reason given is "for traffic control," but in fact the deployment of armed forces is to prevent demonstrations and riots as seen in recent days, with clashes between Uyghurs and thousands of police and violence between groups of Han and Muslim Uyghurs.
The situation is so tense that President Hu Jintao rushed back to China from the G8 summit in Italy. The inter-ethnic conflict, which could spread to other regions of the country, has drawn a hard line response from the Leadership. Yesterday, a communiqué was released at the conclusion of an emergency meeting of the Communist Party Politburo, presided over by Hu Jintao. It is stated that “The planners of the incident, the organisers, key members and the serious violent criminals must be severely punished." Previously, the Xinjiang Party secretary had threatened the death penalty for all those who were responsible for killings in recent days.
After this week’s incidents, which killed 156 people, injuring nearly a thousand, there were at least 1400 arrests.
While telephone lines have been cut and the Internet does not work, the Chinese media continues to proclaim that the riots in Urumqi and other cities in Xinjiang are part of a subversive Islamic extremism. Yesterday, Qin Gang, a spokesman of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs said that there is "much evidence" that some of those involved in the violence "have been trained by terrorist groups including al Qaeda." Qin did not mention what that evidence was, but said that the groups are "closely linked with three evil forces abroad."
The "three forces" being extremists, separatists and terrorists.
Among the Uyghurs there are groups that are inspired by Islamic extremism, but most of them only seek greater autonomy and religious freedom in the face of a forced colonization of the region. To combat "terrorism" Beijing controls every aspect of life of the Uyghurs and their religion.
Every Friday morning, the Muslim holy day, the imams have to present themselves at the local Office for Religious Affairs to explain the text of the sermons that they will give and receive “general indications”. Every religious group must be registered with the National Religious Committee and the appointment of leaders must be approved by the authorities. Parents’ are not permitted to give religious education to their children. Children under 18 are forbidden to attend mosques. During the fasting month of Ramadan, the school authorities force Muslim students and teachers to eat, breaking the fast. In many cities – also thanks to a rampant modernization - mosques, Islamic schools and houses have been expropriated and destroyed to make room for banks, buildings and offices.