Muslim shops and restaurants in a Chinese village have been ordered to sell alcohol and cigarettes in an effort to weaken Islam’s hold on residents in China’s Xinjiang region. Shop owners who refuse face closure and prosecution, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported Monday. It is the latest in a series of anti-Muslim campaigns by Chinese authorities in the name of fighting religious extremism to undermine Islam influence in northwestern China.
Chinese authorities in Laskuy township issued a notice to residents in Aktash village last week saying in part, “all restaurants and supermarkets in our village should place five different brands of alcohol and cigarettes in their shops before (May 1, 2015).” Shopkeepers were also instructed to promote the products in “eye-catching displays.” Authorities warned that “anybody who neglects this notice and fails to act will see their shops sealed off, their business suspended, and legal action pursued against them.” The notice also said the order was handed down from the top ranks of China’s ruling Communist Party.
“We have a campaign to weaken religion here and this is part of that campaign,” Adil Sulayman, Aktash village party committee secretary. “Since 2012, people have stopped selling alcohol and cigarettes through their businesses. Even those who benefited financially from the practice have given it up because they fear public scorn. That is why (the order was issued).”
Many locals in Aktash and other parts of Laskuy who practice Islam have decided to abstain from drinking and smoking, and selling the products was considered taboo for religious reasons. Sulayman told RFA that authorities in Xinjian viewed nonsmoking Muslims as “a form of religious extremism.” The Quran refers to the use of alcohol and any intoxicants or self-destructive practices as a sin.
Government officials and children in the predominately Muslim Xinjiang province have been banned from attending mosques or observing the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins June 17.
The notice, obtained by RFA and posted on Twitter, ordered all restaurants and supermarkets in Aktash to sell five different brands of alcohol and cigarettes and display them prominently.
“Anybody who neglects this notice and fails to act will see their shops sealed off, their businesses suspended, and legal action pursued against them,” the notice said.
Radio Free Asia, which provides some of the only coverage of events in Xinjiang to escape strict Chinese government controls, said Hotan prefecture, where Aktash is located, had become “a hotbed of violent stabbing and shooting incidents between ethnic Uighurs and Chinese security forces.”
China says Uighur militant groups based abroad are using the Internet to inspire local Muslims to take up violent jihad against the state. Critics say China’s long repression of Uighur rights and nationalist sentiment has pushed people toward Islam as the only permitted assertion of their community’s identity, and pushed a minority toward a violent form of Islam. Clumsy attempts to promote alcohol or forbid beards and veils may prove counterproductive, they warn.
In January, Legislators in China’s far-western Xinjiang province passed a law to prohibit residents from wearing burqas in public, in a continued campaign against what authorities view as religious extremism.
The Karamay city authorities targeted veils, large beards, as well as three types of Islamic dresses — including those with the star and crescent symbol. Dozens of bus stations in the city were said to be manned by security personnel to conduct checks and report violators to the police.