02/08/2006, 00.00
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Government bans party members, women and minors from entering mosques in Xinjiang

Signs posted in mosques across the region say youth league members, government officials, as well as active and retired state employees are banned from entering.

Urumqi (AsiaNews/RFA) – Chinese authorities have banned government officials, state employees (on active duty or retired), Communist Party members, youth league members, minors and women from entering mosques. Such signs, written in Uyghur—a language which uses the Arabic alphabet and is frowned upon by the authorities—were first posted in mosques in the southern and poorest parts of the region.

The measure is part of a vast campaign by the Communist Party against a local revival in religious practice, especially amongst its members.

An article published last November in Hong Kong-based social affairs journal Zhengming ('Debates') reported that across the country more than one in three Party members have become involved in religious activities, usually in secret. China's Communist Party has almost 20 million members.

After denying that there was any ban, an imam at the Heitkar mosque in Kashgar confirmed that that it did exist. The imam, who preferred not to reveal his identity, said that it was the "same here in our Heitkar mosque. Our policies are all same".

Several Uyghur Muslims confirmed that members of certain groups were not allowed to go to the mosque even for major festivals such as Eid al-Fitr at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, or Eid al-Adha when sheep and goats are sacrificed to recall the sparing of Abraham's son Isaac.

A farmer added that government officials keep tight guard over mosques, noting who comes and who leaves, and issuing fines of up to 5,000 yuan (US$ 620, € 500) to those who break the ban.

He mentioned the case of a schoolteacher jailed for two years and fired after 20 years' service for persisting in performing her five daily prayers as required of each Muslim.

"If an imam does not do what the government says, he is taken away and the government appoints a new one who will," he said.

Known as East Turkistan till 1955, Xinjiang is currently an Autonomous Region. Uyghurs, who are mostly Muslim, are the largest ethnic group in a population of 19 million. The oil-rich territory was independent until Chinese Communist takeover.

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