Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region working as civil servants, students and teachers have been banned from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday.
The move has sparked condemnation from an exile group.
Xinjiang is a mainly Muslim region, home to the Uighur minority. For years China’s ruling Communist party has restricted fasting in the region, which has seen sees regular and often deadly clashes between Uighurs and state security forces.
Beijing has blamed recent deadly attacks elsewhere in China on militants seeking independence for the resource-rich region.
According to Agence France-Presse, the state-run Bozhou Radio and TV university said on its website that it would “enforce the ban on party members, teachers, and young people from taking part in Ramadan activities.”
“We remind everyone that they are not permitted to observe a Ramadan fast,” it added.
A weather bureau in Qaraqash county in western Xinjiang said on its website that “in accordance with instructions from higher authorities”, it “calls on all current and retired staff not to fast during Ramadan”.
A state office which manages the Tarim River basin posted pictures of its staff wearing traditional Uighur “doppa” caps tucking into a group meal on Saturday.
“Although the meal coincided with the Muslim festival of Ramadan, the cadres who took part expressed a positive attitude and will lead the non-fasting,” it said.
Meanwhile, the commercial affairs bureau of Turfan city said on its website Monday that “civil servants and students cannot take part in fasting and other religious activities.”
China has in the past said that restrictions on fasting are meant to ensure the health of government employees, according to AFP.
The month of Ramadan began this weekend. During the holy month, the faithful fast from dawn to dusk and strive to be more pious.
On Monday, Chinese authorities reportedly encouraged Uighurs to eat free meals on Monday, and inspected homes to check if the fast was being observed, Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, told AFP citing local sources.
“China taking these kind of coercive measures, restricting the faith of Uighurs, will create more conflict,” he said.
“We call on China to ensure religious freedom for Uighurs and stop political repression of Ramadan.”