China attempts to criminalize every aspect of Uyghur religious belief and practice

An April 16, 2014 notice posted on the Shayar County, Aksu Prefecture government website details how informants could receive a reward for reporting on local residents exhibiting one or more of 53 proscribed behaviors. Given that Uyghurs comprise 83% of Shayar’s population, the notice appears targeted at Uyghurs in the county.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has translated into English the entire document from Shayar County local authorities (see below) and believes the notice exacerbates tensions and suspicion between local residents through monetary enticement. According to government statistics, GDP per capita and average wages in Shayar County fall well below regional averages.

 Informants could be rewarded with payments of 50 Yuan to 50,000 Yuan (8 USD to 8,000 USD) for notifying authorities of suspicious behaviors that include: distorting the facts of the unrest of July 5, 2009, “reactionary” speech, encouraging others to petition, and encouraging others to rally. The notice also specifies for potential informants 18 religious activities, including customary religious practices, indicating an unparalleled crackdown on religion in East Turkestan.

 The publication of the document follows reports in the overseas media during the past year of a stepped up Chinese government campaign to repress religion in East Turkestan. These reports and the unprecedented nature of the restrictions detailed in the Shayar County notice reveal that since the publication of areport by the Uyghur Human Rights Project in May 2013 on religious repression, there has been a measurable deterioration in Uyghur religious freedom.

“The Chinese authorities’ intensified drive to repress religious practice and belief among Uyghurs has led to a marked decline for religious freedom in the past year,” said UHRP director, Alim Seytoff in a statement from Washington, DC. “The extent of the limits placed on Uyghur religious behavior now revealed in Shayar County tells us that the Chinese government will leave no stone unturned in curbing Uyghurs’ rights to peaceful religious expression. The conflation between customary religious behaviors common to almost all Uyghurs with religious extremism means nearly every Uyghur is complicit in ‘illegal religious activity’ and forces Uyghur believers to abandon their faith in order to avoid state punishment.”

 A number of overseas media outlets, includingReuters, theWall Street Journal andAFP via UK-based The Telegraph, reported in late April 2014 how Shayar officials were offering rewards for information on “illegal religious activities” in the county, including an encouragement to alert authorities to Uyghurs wearing “bizarre dress” or men growing beards. These articles appear largely based on an April 24, 2014 report published by the Chinese state run, Global Times. The Global Times report cited an individual at the state run Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences who claimed the Shayar notice would foster the maintenance of social stability and that it was a normal international practice to have such regulations.

The Global Times report also cited a Shayar official who admitted the new curbs on behavior were “more detailed” and “based on a previous notice from public security authorities.” After the widespread media coverage of the document, the notice was taken down from the Shayar County government website. Shayar County officials contacted by theNew York Times were unwilling to respond to questions regarding the new measures.
UHRP director, Alim Seytoff added: “This notice effectively turns every Uyghur and their neighbor into government informants by watching and informing their every move to the authorities for money. It creates an atmosphere of distrust, betrayal and fear within Uyghur neighborhoods, towns and counties, such as Shayar, ensuring the kind of political stability Xi Jinping called for in his recent visit to East Turkestan.”
A thorough reading of the Shayar County restrictions discloses the unprecedented extent of the limits placed on Uyghur religious practices not captured in the media reporting cited above. While restrictions on “Islamic appearance” have been frequentlydocumented, curbs on the Nikah are new.

 The Nikah is a fundamental part of Islamic marriage without which the marriage between a man and a woman is not recognized by the Islamic community. It is the religious duty of every Muslim, including the Uyghur people, to have Nikah for the recognition of their marriage. During the Nikah ceremony, an Imam officiates the marriage by asking both bride and groom whether each wants to marry the other, indicating free will. The Imam will also deliver a sermon at the wedding ceremony. The practice has become so firmly rooted in Uyghur religious and cultural practice that all Uyghurs marry with the Nikah. According to Uyghur traditions, without this religious aspect to the wedding ceremony, the couple’s marriage is not considered Islamic and carries an aspect of cultural embarrassment, as the marriage is not legitimate in the eyes of the Uyghur community. The new curbs on behavior from Shayar County deem a reading of the Nikah an attempt “to subvert implementation of the Marriage Law.” The Islamic process of divorce, Talak, is also deemed illegal under the same law, according to the Shayar County notice.

 Other limits on religious expression, such as on fasting during Ramadan, mosque attendance and private religious education, outlined by the Shayar County government were also documented region wide in UHRP’s 2013 report on religious freedom in East Turkestan,Sacred Right Defiled, and remain in effect to date.

 A further sign that regulations governing religion have hardened in recent weeks is an April 14, 2014notice issued by the Chinese Communist Party committee of Qartal Bazaar in Aksu City regarding the holding of an “unlawful” funeral ceremony for Nurdin Turdi, a loyal party official distinguished by the state. The notice, widely circulated on social media, states that as Nurdin Turdi’s funeral was held at a mosque and not at his home, his family was in contravention of regulations on funerals for individuals holding Turdi’s status. As a consequence of the infraction, the funeral fees normally paid by the state to such individuals were rescinded and six months of benefits to the family withheld. Customarily, the state used to permit Islamic burials for any Uyghur who wished to have one.

 Since the release ofSacred Right Defiled in May 2013, Radio Free Asia has reported a series of cases involving limits placed on Uyghur religious expression across East Turkestan, including:Balaqsu, near Kashgar in May 2013;Beshtugmen and Igerchi, near Aksu City in May 2013;Uchturpan, in Aksu Prefecture in August 2013;Shihezi in November 2013;Turpan in April 2014; and in April 2014, the fourth extension to an original 12-year jail term handed down to Uyghur religious leader,Abdukiram Abduveli. In an extraordinary move, the harshness of current religious policies prompted aUyghur delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference to speak out during a March 2014 session.

 The increased repression of religious practices and belief now underway corresponds with Chinese president, Xi Jinping’s determination to implement a “major strategic shift” in East Turkestan that prioritizes security policies in the region. State rhetoric regarding the tightening of security is often accompanied by crackdowns on the “three evil forces of separatism, extremism and terrorism,” which frequently target peaceful religious expression. In an April 30, 2014 Radio Free Asiareport, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called for China to remain a Country of Particular Concern on the US State Department’s blacklist of religious freedom violators. USCIRF vice chair, Katrina Lantos Swett told Radio Free Asia: “any independent religious expression is targeted in China…unless practitioners of whatever faith basically submit to government-controlled religious organizations and religious worship, they are at risk of becoming a target.”

 A recent trip to East Turkestan by Xi Jinping concluded on April 30, 2014 reinforced the call for enhanced security measures. Xivisited People’s Liberation Army soldiers and the People’s Armed Police in Kashgar, a Uyghur majority city that he claimed was thefrontline of counterterrorism. The visit to East Turkestan was preceded by comments given by Xi to the Politburo Central Committee regarding the need to toughen China’s stance on terrorism. As reported byAP, a proposed 2014 budget will increase regional public security spending to 1 billion USD (in 2010 it was 423 million USD according to theNew York Times).

 Universal religious freedom is protected under Article 18 of the normative human rights standards outlined in theUniversal Declaration of Human Rights. Other international instruments whose standards China is obliged to meet also ensure the right of religious freedom, such as theConvention on the Rights of the Child and theConvention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

 China’s domestic laws, such as theConstitution and theRegional Ethnic Autonomy Law, have strong provisions on freedom of religious belief. Despite this international and domestic legal framework, restrictions on religious freedom are deemed “lawful” by Chinese authorities through the strict implementation of local regulations that contradict China’s own laws and international obligations.

 UHRP urges multilateral organizations and concerned governments to act on China’s repression of Uyghur religious rights and more vehemently remind China of the necessity to act as a responsible member of the international community, especially given its growing economic and political influence. Furthermore, UHRP believes pressure should be applied on China to sign and ratify theInternational Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and to ratify theInternational Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

APPENDIX: UHRP Translation of Shayar County Announcement

Shayar County Intelligence Information [Gathering] Award Announcement

2014-04-16 17:34  

In order to conduct stability work well, social stability information work is a key element. Promptly reporting social stability information can actively prevent and precisely strike at all kinds of illegal crimes, and effectively safeguard the security of the country and the people’s lives and property. In order to encourage all people to actively provide every type of clue, [we] now announce the county’s intelligence information [gathering] reward method as follows:

Each and every one who provides social stability information whose truth can be verified by inspection will receive different rewards ranging from 50-50,000 yuan based on standards based on the type and rank of the information. The specific divisions are:

I. For providing information on real threats of major security dangers, the reward will be 50,000 yuan or more; for providing the following kinds of information on threats to social and political security, the reward will range from 5,000 yuan to 50,000 yuan according to the value of the information provided:

1.     Report clues about actions aiming to split the country; using explosives, spreading poison, committing arson, kidnapping, or murder; manufacturing, trading, transporting or privately storing guns and ammunition; and gathering intelligence or providing funding to reactionary foreign or domestic groups.

2.     Report clues about actions which utilize illegal religious teaching places to organize and carry out skills training for guns, ammunition and manufacturing of explosives; or to conduct technical or physical training for violent terrorist crimes; or actions to instill a separatist ideology in others, agitate for violence, or incite ethnic hatred.

3.     Report clues about actions that use “Haram” [forbidden by Islam] as an excuse to attack the Party and the government; refusal to use the renminbi currency or inciting others to do so, rejecting the use of or destroying documents issued by the government; refusal to apply for a marriage license; to subvert implementation of the Marriage Law by means of “reading Nikah [Nikah is the Islamic marriage ceremony]” or “Talak [Talak is the Islamic process of divorce];” and other actions that openly defy national laws and policies.

4.     Report clues about actions to use the internet to produce, extract, reproduce, post, or publish audio, video, pictures, or text which includes content that incites national separatism, ethnic hatred or discrimination, and furthermore about the actions of their dissemination; and to report clues about actions to illegally publish, print, reproduce, sell or disseminate books or audio recordings that contain separatist content.

5.     Report clues about using religious courts in order to implement forcible dispute resolution or to take actions that damage the country’s judiciary.

6.     Report clues about actions to organize, assemble, compel or instigate multiple people to participate in illegal religious activities; or disturb social order.

7.     Report clues about actions to coerce, instigate or connive to have those who should accept national compulsory education to interfere with the normal educational order through studying religious scripture, fasting [for Ramadan], or worshiping.

8.     Report clues about actions to compete for religious spaces [Mihrap, a special space in the Mosque, where the Imam stands, leads prayer and gives sermons] for religious groups, and leadership authority, or to occupy the altar by force; to report clues about actions that create conflicts between religions or sects or provoke religious or sectarian strife.

9.     Report clues about actions to attempt to organize or assemble religious converts to cause disturbances, to interfere with the government to carry out its normal religious affairs management role, or to attempt to gather a crowd to surround, attack, occupy by force or loot public places and religious sites.

10.  Report clues about actions to preach illegally; to restrict the personal freedom of others; corporal punishment; and physical abuse of others; and clues about cadres, workers, students, Party members or the rural “three old personnel” [cadres, party members and specially recognized senior citizens in rural areas who meet service requirements] who commit illegal religious activities such as believing in religion, entering a mosque, expanding religious buildings without authorization, or receiving religious teaching fees.

11.  Report clues about the first signs of intelligence relating to premeditated plans for major disturbances organized within the county area which could seriously impact social and political stability such as unrest, riots, illegal marches, rallies, petitions, registering complaints with the government, strikes or student walkouts.

12.  Report clues that could play a direct role in capturing important wanted criminals at large that threaten national security or political stability,

13.  Clues that play a direct role in preventing or quelling events that may cause major mass disturbance.

14.  Clues that play an important role in preventing mass defection or migration.

15.  Clues that play a direct role in eliminating illegal religious activities such as underground preaching and illegal “tabliq” [tabliq is an informal religious discussion led by a layperson].

16.  Clues that play a direct role in cracking [legal] cases to incite propaganda that damages national security through major slogans, pamphlets, leaflets, letters, reactionary propaganda materials and jihadi propaganda videos.

17.  Other clues which play a major role in achieving protection of national security and political stability of the entire county.

II. For reporting, exposing and providing information on actions that disturb public order; impair public safety; or infringe on people’s rights or property rights; or actions that disrupt social management such as theft, robbery, rape, injury, fraud, drug crimes, or traffic accidents, within the provisions of other illegal criminal activities in the Criminal Law and Security Punishment Law, rewards range from 500-5,000 yuan.

III. For reporting the following other kinds of information, rewards range from 50-500 yuan.

1.     Discovering a religious site violates [all] 23 Clauses. [23 rules restricting the religious freedom of the Uyghur people];

2.     Discovering illegal preaching;

3.     Discovering a person studies scripture outside of their local area;

4.     Discovering prayer in public places;

5.     Discovering a Party member, cadre or minor enter a mosque;

6.     Discovering people with bizarre dress or growing a long beard;

7.     Discovering frequent meetings of released convicts and others;

8.     Discovering reactionary slogans printed on currency;

9.     Discovering people distorting the facts of the July 5 incident, saying things that do not benefit ethnic unity, and hurt the party and the nation’s image;

10.  Discovering someone’s speech is reactionary, and actions are abnormal;

11.  Discovering a dispute between Han and ethnic residents;

12.  Discovering someone watching a reactionary DVD, or downloaded reactionary videos on mobile phones or computers;

13.  Discovering possession of air guns or hunting guns;

14.  Discovering privately making and selling of matches, natural gas cylinders, controlled knives, fireworks, gasoline, plumbing materials (pipes, plugs), etc.; sales without records and without conducting real name registration.

15.  Discovering illegal printing and circulation of reactionary propaganda materials;

16.  Discovering reactionary slogans posted on the walls of public places;

17.  Discovering growing of marijuana, or using marijuana, ecstasy, heroin or other drugs.

18.  Discovering a book or video store that sells illegal propaganda materials.

19.  Discovering the first signs of a public brawl;

20.  Discovering someone who attempts to bypass ranks with a petition, or bypass ranks with a collective petition;

21.  Discovering someone encouraging others to bypass ranks with a petition, causing disturbance or harassment through a petition.

22.  Discovering another’s home is used to store dangerous materials such as large amounts of gasoline, ammonia, or glass infusion bottles;

23.  Discovering an early marriage in violation of the Marriage Law;

24.  Discovering an excess birth in violation of the Family Planning Law;

25.  Discovering impersonation of a government official or using other means of fraud;

26.  Discovering engagement in feudal superstitions;

27.  Promptly report all kind of traffic accidents, and provide clues;

28.  Discovering someone privately rents an apartment [or house] without obtaining police authorization;

29.  Discovering that crowds are gambling;

30.  Discovering a local person [or officer] is missing;

31.  Promptly discovering a migrant person has not registered with the community, village or police station;

32.  Discovering that a minor drops out of school;

33.  Discovering that a minor enters an Internet café and gambles in a game room;

34.  Promptly discovering a foreigner has entered the county;

35.  Discovering security risks in public facilities and entertainment venues;

36.  Other information related to stability.

IV. Methods and channels to report information gathering

Upon discovering any of the aforementioned clues, first it can be reported to the village’s (or town’s) or agricultural farmland’s [agricultural farmlands are controlled by the paramilitary Xinjiang Construction and Production Corps] political secretary or police station; second it can be directly reported by calling “110;” third it can be reported to the county public security bureau; fourth it can be reported to the community (or village) party secretary; fifth it can be reported to the County Politics and Law Committee (telephone: 8322230). People can report by directly going to those units to make a report, or it can also be done by phone or by a letter reporting to those units.

Anyone reporting an offense, making a disclosure or providing intelligence clues can leave their contact information, and once the clues are effectively investigated to verify their truth, the relevant department will contact the informant; and give a reward according to the “Shayar County Intelligence Information [Gathering] Award Announcement.” Informants who do no wish to leave their contact information can leave a bank account number, and if the clues provided are effectively investigated to verify their truth, based on the reward standard in the “Shayar County Intelligence Information [Gathering] Award Announcement,” the relevant department will be responsible for depositing the reward in the bank account provided by the informant.

V. Security Commitment for Informants

The County Politics and Law Committee, the County Public Security Bureau, each township’s (or town’s), agricultural farmland’s police department, each township’s (or town’s), agricultural farmland’s Political and Legal Secretary, and each community’s (or village’s) party branch secretary will work to protect the confidentiality of informants, and the public security bureau organs will guarantee the personal safety of informants.

A screenshot of the online notice is available in a PDF of this briefing via the following link:


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