Urumqi (AsiaNews) - Different government departments in the western province of Xinjiang have banned its officials and national school students from fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The decision was apparently taken by the local government with the support of Beijing after a series of terrorist attacks that have rocked China in recent months. The central authorities have blamed Uyghur separatists - formerly the ethnic majority in Xinjiang - of having planned the attacks in Beijing, Urumqi, Kunming and Guangzhou. For their part, the ethnic leaders have always denied any involvement in acts of violence.
Xinjiang province is one of the most turbulent in all of China. It is the homeland of ethnic Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim people that has always sought independence from Beijing. The central government has sent hundreds of thousands of Han Chinese to the region to try to make them the dominant ethnic group. It has also imposed serious restrictions on freedom of religion, Muslim practices, the teaching of the indigenous language and the local culture.
Bozhou Radio and TV University - both government media - have stated that the fasting ban applies to Party members, teachers and young people: " We remind everyone that they are not permitted to observe a Ramadan fast ". According to the local Met Office, which has also adopted the ban, the norm "was enacted in accordance with the instructions that come from the highest authorities."
A spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress - an Organization based in Germany that represents the ethnic diaspora and monitors the situation in the province - has confirmed the restrictions and added that authorities "have posted security officers in Muslim homes to check that the categories involved do not observe the fast. These restrictions on our freedom of religion will only worsen the situation".
Isaaq Yousef, head of the Council for the Islamic-Chinese relations (a state controlled organization that regulates the lives of Chinese Muslims in Xinjiang), however denies Beijing's involvement: " If such a ban is in effect, it's an initiative of lower level state employees and not a directive from higher authorities There is no interest for the state in banning anyone who wants to practice his religion. But if this happens, it is usually those state employees who are behind this".