URUMQI – Chinese authorities in the Muslim-majority northwestern region of Xinjiang have ordered the ethnic Muslim Uighur group to hand in religious items, including prayer mats and copies of the Holy Qur’an.
“Officials at village, township and county level are confiscating all Qur’ans and the special mats used for namaaz [prayer],” a Kazakh source in Altay prefecture, near the border with Kazakhstan told Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Wednesday, September 27.
“Pretty much every household has a Qur’an, and prayer mats,” he said.
Officials have spread warnings across Xinjiang neighborhoods and mosques, saying that ethnic minority Uighur, Kazakh and Kyrgyz Muslims must hand in the items or face harsh punishment if they are found later.
The news was confirmed by Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile World Uyghur Congress group, saying that these reports have emerged from Kashgar, Hotan, and other regions.
“We received a notification saying that every single ethnic Uyghur must hand in any Islam-related items from their own home, including Qurans, prayers and anything else bearing the symbols of religion,” Raxit said.
“They have to be handed in voluntarily. If they aren’t handed in, and they are found, then there will be harsh punishments,” he said.
Raxit said announcements are being made by the police via popular social media platform WeChat.
“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 announcements say that people must hand in any prayer mats of their own accord to the authorities, as well as any religious reading matter, including anything with the Islamic moon and star symbol on it,” he said.
“They are requiring people to hand in these items of their own accord,” he said.
Chinese authorities impose restrictions on Uighur Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of a heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uighur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uighur people.
China regularly vows to crack down on what it calls the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism in Xinjiang.
But experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uighur separatists, and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012.