Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of East Turkistan are forcing Muslim Uyghur students returning there for the summer vacation to attend “political study classes” ahead of a sensitive anniversary of ethnic violence and the holy month of Ramadan.
“After the students get back to their hometowns, those with cell phones and computers must hand them in to the police for searching,” Dilxat Raxit, Sweden-based spokesman for the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC) group said on Thursday.
“If they don’t hand them over and are reported or caught by the authorities, then they will have to bear the consequences,” Raxit said, without specifying what the consequences would be.
He said local officials had already deployed buses to transport Uyghur students studying elsewhere in China back home under the watchful eye of the authorities.
The anniversary of deadly ethnic violence that rocked the regional capital of Urumqi on July 5, 2009 falls just ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan this year, Raxit said.
China imposes strict controls on Muslims via religious affairs offices at every level of government, and children under 18 are forbidden to take part in religious activities, including fasting during Ramadan.
“They are extracting guarantees from parents, promising that their children won’t fast on Ramadan,” Raxit said.
“They have also made groups of 10 households responsible for spying on each other, so that if a single child from one family fasts for Ramadan, or takes part in religious activities, then all 10 families will be fined.”
“It’s called a 10-household guarantee system,” he said.
An official who answered the phone at a religious affairs bureau in Hotan’s Yutian county confirmed some of Raxit’s information.
“[Fasting] is not allowed,” the official said. “The students and the teachers have to report to their schools every Friday, even during the vacation.”
“It’s like regular lessons,” he said, adding that the students would also be eating there.
Raxit said students wishing to leave their home villages during the vacation would need to obtain special permission from the authorities.
Last month, authorities in Xinjiang’s Aksu prefecture detained 12 students at Tarim University, holding nine of them for two days and releasing three of them on bail at the end of May.
The Uyghur Online website (Uyghurbiz.net) said the students were taken away from Tarim University by police from nearby Aral (in Chinese, Ala’er) city in early May, adding that one of them, identified as Ibrahim, was detained after being accused of “having overseas contacts.”
The detentions came just days after an outbreak of violence in Siriqbuya (in Chinese, Selibuya) township in Kashgar prefecture’s Maralbeshi (Bachu) county left 21 dead, with 19 Uyghur suspects detained by police.
Chinese authorities blamed the violence on Uyghur “terrorists,” but rights groups and experts familiar with the region say Beijing exaggerates the terrorism threat to take the heat off domestic policies that cause unrest or to justify the authorities’ use of force against the Uyghur minority.
Last month, dozens of high school students in China’s troubled western Xinjiang region took to the streets in a rare protest over the right of Uyghur girls to wear traditional head-coverings in school.
Nearly 100 students from the Kizilsu (in Chinese, Kezhou) No. 1 High School in Xinjiang’s Atosh (in Chinese, Atushi) city marched out of the gates and onto the streets in anger on Wednesday after the school tried to enforce a ban on headscarves.
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness, blaming the problems partly on the influx of Han Chinese into the region.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.