BEIJING: The restive Xinjiang region in western China has banned prayer meetings and other religious practices in government buildings, schools and business offices. It has also imposed steep fines on the use of mobile phones and Internet to disseminate messages that ‘undermine national unity’.
Religious activities will now be restricted only to take place in registered venues like mosques. The new rules also disallow people from wearing or forcing others to wear clothes or logos associated with religious extremism.
But it was not clear what types of clothes and logos are being targeted. The government’s orders will affect Muslim employees, many of whom are known to conduct at least two of the day’s five prayers in quite areas of office buildings during a work day, informed sources said. Many Muslims are also known to use mobile phones and computers to study or practice religion hymns, which are embedded in alarm clock and other software.
“An increasing number of problems involving religious affairs have emerged in Xinjiang,” Ma Mingcheng, deputy director of the Xinjiang People’s Congress and director of its legislative affairs committee, told the local media.
Chinese officials have earlier said that Xinjiang has seen a sharp growth in religious fundamentalism, which may be affecting young minds and turning some of them towards terrorism. The region, which borders Pakistan, is a hotbed of a violent separatist movement run by the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement.
The new rules, which come into effect January 1, also prohibit people from distributing and viewing videos about jihad, or holy war, religious extremism and terrorism in or outside religious venues, and requires religious leaders to report such activities to the local authorities and police.
The region’s local parliament passed a law on Friday stipulating penalties of between 5,000 and 30,000 yuan ($4,884) for individuals who use the Internet, mobile phones or digital publishing to undermine national unity, social stability or incite ethnic hatred.
The last major case of violence took place Shache county near the Pakistan border on Friday when 15 people were killed. Four were killed in knife attacks by the ultras, and 11 “mobsters” were killed by the police.
Last March, knife-wielding militants from Xinjiang killed 31 people and injured 141 at the Kunming railway station in southwest Yunnan province.