The Chinese authorities have unjustly and unwisely restricted the practice of Islam in Xinjiang province – a policy wrong in itself and also reflective of their (at best) inconsistent respect for human rights as a whole.
Specifically, many county and local government websites have recently published statements that students, teachers, officials (including retirees) and Communist Party members are not permitted to take part in religious activities relating to the Muslim month of Ramadan, including visits to mosques and fasting during daylight hours.
Xinjiang, which constitutes one-sixth of the whole area of China, was formerly known in the West as Chinese Turkestan, because it was inhabited mainly by Turkic and Mongolian peoples, most of them Muslims. The nine million Uighurs are by far the largest such group. In recent decades, many Han Chinese have migrated there, and their population is now about equal to the Uighurs.
It is a particularly sensitive region, bordering on eight countries, and containing a large proportion of China’s oil and natural gas.
The discouragement of Muslim practices in Xinjiang is not new, but it has become more intense in the past few years, and is presented as a matter of social stability and security.
Last week, it was announced that 20 people, apparently Uighurs, had been criminally convicted of terrorist and separatist activities. It is of course possible that some militant Xinjiang Muslims have acquired weapons and favour violent resistance to the government.
But the forbidding of peaceable, normal Muslim religious practices among groups that are comparatively easily to control – school students and party members – suggests a religious intolerance in the government and the Communist Party that is likely to invite separatism among the Muslims of Xinjiang. If this policy continues, the rulers of China in Beijing will live to regret their cavalier attitude toward freedom of religion – and the full range of human rights.