Amid China’s ongoing crackdown on terrorism in Xinjiang, launched last May in effort to combat increasing violence in the region and elsewhere in China, authorities have rolled out policies limiting Islamic dress and custom; while officials blame homegrown religious extremism and influence from the islamic militants abroad for inciting violence, critics of central policies limiting religious freedom warn that they will only “increase inter-ethnic tension and enhance the prospects for societal turmoil.” Radio Free Asia’s Shohret Hoshur reports that shop and restaurant owners in a village in Hotan, Xinjiang have now been ordered to sell and prominently display alcohol and cigarettes (intoxicants are explicitly discouraged by Islamic doctrine) or else face closure:
Last week, authorities in Laskuy township, in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture’s Hotan county, issued an announcement in the town seat of Aktash village that “all restaurants and supermarkets in our village should place five different brands of alcohol and cigarettes in their shops before [May 1, 2015].”
[…] Signed by the Aktash village Party Committee of Laskuy township, the notice stated that the order had been handed down “from the top echelons of [China’s ruling Communist Party], in order to provide greater convenience to the public.”
Perhat Rozi, chairman of the Political Law Committee of Laskuy township’s party leadership, refused to comment on the announcement, but Aktash village party committee secretary Adil Sulayman told RFA’s Uyghur Service that the new policy was part of an effort to undermine Islam in the area.
“We have a campaign to weaken religion here and this is part of that campaign,” he said.
“Since 2012, people have stopped selling alcohol and cigarettes through their businesses. Even those who benefitted financially from the practice have given it up because they fear public scorn. That is why [the order was issued].”
[…] Sulayman said authorities in Xinjiang—where China has launched a series of “strike hard” campaigns in the name of fighting separatism and terrorism—viewed non-smoking Muslim Uyghurs as adhering to “a form of religious extremism.” [Source]
A recent report on how religious restriction in Elishku (Shache in Chinese), Xinjiang may have stoked a deadly confrontation last year noted that one of many looped public announcements declared “quitting drinking and smoking, or refusing to drink with friends” as a telltale mark of a religious extremist. Headscarves and beards have also been targeted by officials as signs of religious extremism, and Uyghurs have received jail sentences for refusing to shave or remove veils. In coverage of the new village directive for The Washington Post, Simon Denyer relays commentary from Chinese ethnic policy expert James Leibold on the counterproductivity of these types of policies:
James Leibold, an expert on China’s ethnic policies at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, said Chinese officials were “often flailing around in the dark” when tackling extremism. An acute lack of understanding leads them to focus on visible, but imprecise, perceptions of radicalism such as long beards, veils and sobriety, he said.
The result is often “crude forms of ethno-cultural profiling,” Leibold said.
“These sorts of mechanistic and reactive policies only serve to inflame ethno-national tension without addressing the root causes of religious extremism, while further alienating the mainstream Uighur community, making them feel increasingly unwelcome within a hostile, Han-dominated society,” he wrote in an e-mail. […] [Source]
U.S.-government funded RFA is often the first organization to report news from Xinjiang, where authorities exercise strict control over the media narrative by limiting journalists access and issuing censorship directives on regional developments. Early this year, The Washington Post’s Denyer reported that relatives of RFA’s Shohret Hoshur, the D.C.-based journalist who filed the above report, have for years faced harassment. Last weekend, Shorhet Hoshur reported that six Uyghurs were killed and two others captured after fleeing while allegedly planning a terrorist attack in Hotan last month:
During the incident, which occurred on April 19, in Suk village, Lengger township, Keriye county (in Chinese, Yutian) of Hotan (Hetian) prefecture, a state security teamed surrounded a house where Uyghurs they suspected of being terrorists were hiding, sources from the area said. Six people died when an explosion went off inside the house, while two others escaped.
[…] When RFA’s Uyghur Service contacted the police department in Keriye County this week, an officer confirmed the incident by saying, “Are you asking about the incident that occurred in Suk village of Lengger township?…Yes, I know about that, but you have to call a higher authority for details about it.”
Police had blocked all the roads around the house and confiscated the cell phones of witnesses to the incident before the explosion occurred, sources said.
[…] The authorities said the men had bombs on their bodies, but didn’t specify whether they had committed suicide or if police had exploded the devices, he said.
Also see a recent report from Reuters on Ju Anqi’s “Poet on a Business Trip,” and how the award-winning film, shot a decade ago but only released last year due to a production dispute, now behaves as a “powerful record of a more peaceful time” in the tightly-controlled region.