Beijing: Students and civil servants in China's Muslim northwest, where Beijing is enforcing a security crackdown following deadly unrest, have been ordered to avoid taking part in traditional fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Statements posted in the past several days on websites of schools, government agencies and local party organizations in the Xinjiang region said the ban was aimed at protecting students' wellbeing and preventing use of schools and government offices to promote religion.
Statements on the websites of local party organizations said members of the officially atheist ruling party also should avoid fasting.
"No teacher can participate in religious activities, instill religious thoughts in students or coerce students into religious activities," said a statement on the website of the No. 3 Grade School in Ruoqiang County in Xinjiang.
Similar bans have been imposed in the past on fasting for Ramadan, which began at sundown Saturday. But this year is unusually sensitive because Xinjiang is under tight security following attacks that the government blames on Muslim extremists with foreign terrorist ties.
Violence has escalated in recent years in Xinjiang. The ruling party blames violent extremists that it says want independence, while members of the region's Uighur ethnic group complain that discrimination and restrictions on religion, such as a ban on taking children to mosques, are fueling anger at the ethnic Han Chinese majority.
An attack on May 22 in the regional capital of Urumqi by four people who threw bombs in a vegetable market killed 43 people, including the attackers. On June 22, police in Kashgar in the far west said they killed 13 assailants who drove into a police building and set off explosives, injuring three officers. Authorities have blamed two other attacks at train stations in Urumqi and in China's southwest on Muslim extremists.
The government responded with a crackdown that resulted in more than 380 arrests in one month and public rallies to announce sentences.
The ruling party is wary of religious activities it worries might serve as a rallying point for opposition to one-party rule. Controls on worship are especially sensitive in Xinjiang and in neighboring Tibet, where religious faith plays a large role in local cultures.
On Tuesday, authorities in some communities in Xinjiang held celebrations of the anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party and served food to test whether Muslim guests were fasting, according to Dilxat Raxit, spokesman in Germany for the rights group World Uyghur Congress.
"This will lead to more conflicts if China uses coercive measures to rule and to challenge Uighur beliefs," said Dilxat Raxit in an email