Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region working as civil servants, students and teachers have been banned from fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday.
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,” according to Agence France-Presse.
“We remind everyone that they are not permitted to observe a Ramadan fast,” it added.
China has in the past said that restrictions on fasting are meant to ensure the health of government employees, according to AFP.
When contacted by Al Arabiya News head of the Islamic Chinese Relations Council Isaaq Yousef said he didn’t know whether there was a ban but he said: “if there is one it would be low level state employees who could be seeking to stir trouble.”
“There is no interest for the state in banning anyone who wants to practice his religion. But if this happens, it is usually those state employees who are behind this.”
Isaaq cited the visit of President Xi Jinping to the region in April during which he visited a mosque and met with representatives of the Muslim community in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
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.
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.”