Religious freedom in violence-torn Xinjiang ‘unparalleled’, says China’s government
Region hit by series of attacks in recent years blamed on Islamist separatists
Beijing has insisted in a new policy white paper that there is no religious discrimination against Muslims in Xinjiang, despite observers saying unspoken prejudice remains common for ethnic Uygurs in the region.
The document on religious freedom in Xinjiang, issued by the State Council Information Office on Thursday, came days before the sensitive holy month of Ramadan.
“No resident has received discrimination or unjust treatment based on their religious or lack of religious belief,” it said.
A top ethnic Uygur official in Xinjiang also dismissed claims there was jobs discrimination against Uygurs. “I’m a Uygur and speaking for my family, I have never experienced any discrimination,” Shoket Imin, a member of the Communist Party’s standing committee in Xinjiang, said at a briefing on the paper. “We’ve been respected and protected.”
But Beijing-based independent scholar Jiang Zhaoyong said the government had yet to find an effective way to encourage private businesses to employ Uygurs, amid reports that they face extra barriers to jobs, housing and travel. “There have been some attempts including tax breaks, but it’s still difficult given language barriers and religious practices.”
Jiang cited a recent job posting by a telecommunications equipment maker that said applicants’ household registration, or hukou, should not be in Xinjiang. The post was later removed after it was attacked as discriminatory.
“The government always wants more Uygurs employed so extremist thoughts can be diffused by exposure to modernity. But unspoken discrimination has always been there,” Jiang said.
The white paper said freedom of religious belief in Xinjiang today “cannot be matched by that in any other historical period, and is undeniable to anyone who respects the facts”. It also said Beijing opposed “any other country’s interference in China’s internal affairs in the name of religion”.
It said that judicial agencies in Xinjiang fought criminal activities committed in the name of religion, and defended China’s efforts to fight religious extremism to safeguard the fundamental interests of the country and people.
In previous years during Ramadan, Beijing has reportedly stepped up security and even banned some Muslims from fasting in Xinjiang, amid fears of unrest.
Beijing says Islamist separatists collaborating with overseas terrorist groups are behind a series of violent attacks in the region. Rights organisations and Uygur exile groups say unrest has been inflamed by the party’s oppressive ethnic and religious policies.
The white paper said Muslim restaurants in the region were free to stay open or close during Ramadan, a time when Muslims traditionally fast during daylight hours.
“Government services” in the region will be strengthened during the month to ensure “orderly religious activities”, it added.
Dilxat Rexit, from the World Uygur Congress, the main Uygur exile group, said the United States had a responsibility to pressure China to respect Uygurs’ religious beliefs during bilateral talks in Beijing starting on Monday.
China’s “lies could not cover up the truth” about its openly restrictive and prohibitive religious policies, he said.