China bans Xinjiang officials from observing Ramadan fast

A woman distributes food on a table as she waits to break her fast in the Chinese capital Beijing Muslims in other parts of China have been fasting - here the evening meal is prepared at a Beijing mosque

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Several government departments in China's far western region of Xinjiang have banned Muslim staff from fasting during the month of Ramadan.

One department website said that civil servants cannot "take part in fasting and other religious activities".

The move comes amid tightened security in the region which has been hit by a growing number of violent attacks.

Authorities blame separatist Muslim Uighurs, but Uighur leaders deny they are behind the attacks.

Activists have accused Beijing of exaggerating the threat from Uighur separatists to justify a crackdown on the Uighurs' religious and cultural freedoms.

Increasing tensions

State-administered Bozhou Radio and TV University said on its website that the fasting ban applied to party members, teachers and young people.

Policewomen from the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team run in formation during a graduation performance as members of an anti-terrorist patrol team in Xinjiang (June 2014) China has been accused of suppressing the cultural and religious freedoms of Uighurs
Uighurs in China's Xinjiang region (June 2014) Most members of the Uighur ethnic minority are Muslim

"We remind everyone that they are not permitted to observe a Ramadan fast," it said.

Similarly a weather bureau in western Xinjiang was reported by the AFP news agency to have said on its website that the ban was "in accordance with instructions from higher authorities".

The BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing says that this is not the first time that China has restricted fasting in Xinjiang.

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But our correspondent says that with Beijing blaming extremist Uighurs for growing violence, the ban is likely to be seen by many Muslims as an attack on their religion, further increasing tensions.

Among those imposing a ban are a commercial affairs department and a government hospital which got Muslim staff to sign a written pledge that they would not fast.

State-run newspapers have in addition been running editorials warning about the health dangers of fasting.

Many Uighurs say that the suppression of their cultural and religious freedoms is fuelling the unrest in the region and attacks elsewhere in China.

Last month 13 assailants were killed in an attack on a police station in the restive province.

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Uighurs and Xinjiang
Uighurs pose for photos in front of a portrait of Mao Zedong in Beijing on March 3, 2013
  • Uighurs are ethnically Turkic Muslims
  • They make up about 45% of the region's population; 40% are Han Chinese
  • China re-established control in 1949 after crushing short-lived state of East Turkestan
  • Since then, there has been large-scale immigration of Han Chinese
  • Uighurs fear erosion of traditional culture

Who are the Uighurs?

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