Extending its crackdown against ethnic minority Muslims in the north-western region of Xinjiang, Chinese authorities have asked families to hand-over all the religious items including prayer mats and the holy Quran. Officials in the region have told the families and mosques that Uyghur, Kazakh and Kyrgyz Muslims must give up all these items or face punishment.
"Officials at village, township and county level are confiscating all Qurans and the special mats used for namaaz[prayer]," a Kazakh source in Altay prefecture, near the border with Kazakhstan told Radio Free Asia. "Pretty much every household has a Quran, and prayer mats."
While the process has started in Xinjiang now, it has been reported that Kashgar, Hotan, and other regions have been witnessing this since last week. The authorities have reportedly been sending out notices through social media platform WeChat. The notices also say that apart from the Quran and prayer mats, people must also hand in any religious reading matter as well as things that have the "Islamic moon and star symbol on it."
"We received a notification saying that every single ethnic Uyghur must hand in any Islam-related items from their own home, including Qurans, prayers and anything else bearing the symbols of religion," noted Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile World Uyghur Congress group.
"They have to be handed in voluntarily. If they aren't handed in, and they are found, then there will be harsh punishments," he said. "They are requiring people to hand in these items of their own accord."
Explaining the step, the Chinese officials have said that they were removing all the Qurans published in the last five years, as they featured extremist content. This is a part of China's "Three Illegals and One Item" campaign, which bans numerous items owned by the Uyghurs.
While the ethnic group sees these items as religious, the authorities believe they are illegal. These include knives and flammable items remote-controlled toys, and objects with symbols related to Islam. The authorities, who believe that these items help promote terrorism, have also deemed religious activities and teaching as illegal.
Also, items coming in from Kazakhstan or with anything in the Kazakh language or symbols have been banned. "Any items bearing writing or any other traces of Kazakhstan, including street signs or graffiti, store decorations, arts and crafts items, T-shirts and so on, must immediately be investigated ... and a detailed report made to higher authorities by Sept. 25," the notice earlier said.
China has time and again been urged to respect international human rights laws and stop singling out these ethnic minority communities, but the nation believes that this way, it can focus on "maintaining legality, blocking extremism, and attacking crime," as per the State Council's website.
In the year 2015, the nation invited ire when it forced officials in the Xinjiang region to swear that they will not fast during the holy month of Ramadan. State websites had reportedly been putting up notices asking officials and civil servants, and even students and teachers, not observe Ramadan.
In some regions, officials had even been asked to give oral and written assurances that they "have no faith, will not attend religious activities and will lead the way in not fasting over Ramadan," Reuters reported citing state media.