Chinese officials have asked ethnic minority Muslims in the northwestern Xinjiang province to hand in any religious items like copies of the Holy Quran and prayer mats, RFA reported. In the most recent crackdown, minority Uyghur, Kazakh and Kyrgyz Muslim residents and mosques have been threatened of “harsh punishments” if Islamic religious items are found later on their premises.
The spokesperson for the World Uyghur Congress Group, Dilxat Raxit, has reported that the warnings were issued sometime last week, and broadcast through the popular social media app, WeChat.
There seems to be a blanket ban on Islamic religious items, as Raxit reported that authorities want items bearing the crescent moon and star, a symbol associated with Islam, to also be handed in.
"All Qurans and related items must be handed into the authorities, and there are notices to this effect being broadcast via WeChat," Raxit said.
The practice seems to be an extension of the government’s notorious “Three Illegals and An Item” campaign from earlier this year.
Under this initiative, the government banned religious publicity materials, religious teachings, religious activities, as well as items that could be used to aid terrorism, e.g. knives, flammable objects, or just about anything bearing an Islamic symbol. It was also then that officials began to confiscate copies of the Quran published more than five years ago under the assumption that all of them featured what was vaguely described as “extremist content.”
The campaign to forcefully confiscate people’s belongings was not successful, so officials have now asked residents to hand in their belongings.
The ban is not limited to paraphernalia associated with religion. Officials have apparently decided that goods streaming in from Kazakhstan also have the potential to facilitate terrorism in the country. Sources report that “noodles, organic products and mare’s milk spirit” bought from Kazakhstan can also not be sold in the region.
A leaked police report dated Sept. 22 also confirms this.
"Any items bearing writing or any other traces of Kazakhstan, including street signs or graffiti, store decorations, arts and crafts items, T-shirts and so on, must immediately be investigated ... and a detailed report made to higher authorities by Sept. 25," the notice ordered.
This ban seems to be a part of a larger crackdown on Kazakhs living in China. Chinese authorities, which until recently had been welcoming of Kazakhs who wished to relocate from Kazakhstan, have asked Kazakhs to hand in their passports and green cards.
Chinese authorities denied all allegations of confiscating Islamic items. Chinese Foreign Ministry Lu Kang maintains the situation in Xinjiang is “sound.”
"We hope relevant parties refrain from making groundless allegations and rumors," he said.
There has been a sustained campaign from Chinese authorities to prosecute the ethnic Muslim minority of Uyghur Muslims in China.
The Human Rights Watch in China accused the country of leading a “crushing” campaign against the Uyghur minority group. The country stifles religious thought and expression, even among schoolchildren. In a humiliating practice, the report by HRW said, officials require imams and religious functionaries to participate in “self-criticism” sessions. In 2017, Chinese authorities made it impossible for Muslims to fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Fasting was banned, and party activists checked in on people in public buildings to ensure they were eating at meal times.
The state-sanctioned violence feeds into a feeling of discontent and rebellion against the state, which then provides justification for more violence. In 2009, tensions between Uyghur Muslims and the majority Hans reached fever pitch, and more than 140 people died in the resulting riots. The riots in 2009 gave the Chinese government an excuse to police the lives of Uyghurs even more strictly.