China said to ban religion for underage Xinjiang teens, children

(Photo: REUTERS / Aly Song)Uighur women walk through downtown Shanghai, May 2, 2014.

China has found a new way to prevent Uighurs, most of whom are Muslims, from practicing their faith.

It has banned underage children from "following a religion" and practicing their beliefs, says an exiled interest group.

Parents and guardians of Uighurs in the restive Xinjiang province signed pledges to signify they would not permit children and teenagers below 18 years from taking part in any religious activity, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) says.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia, WUC spokesman Dilxat Raxit recalled that the policy used to cover sons and daughters of ethnic Uighur government employees.

"It's not just officials in particular now. The entire education sector is putting coercive measures in place," Raxit said.

"There is now a political campaign under way in all areas aimed at forbidding Uighur students from practicing any religion."

Relaying information gathered from Hotan, Kashgar and Aksu prefectures, Raxit said staff members at educational institutions signed pledges they would avoid having religious activity in schools.

He said anyone found to have broken their pledge would automatically be fired from their jobs and slapped with a fine.

A worker at the Hotan education bureau confirmed the implementation of the new rule.

Raxit pointed out that the new restrictions the communist party is implementing in Xinjiang would be counterproductive as he feared for another wave of violent backlash in the tense region.

Many Uighurs are already complaining about the heightened security and the restrictions on their religious beliefs and practices, according to the spokesman.

"People will use any method they can to defend their own religious beliefs," Raxit said. "Recently we have seen a number of violent incidents, with deaths and injuries [among Han Chinese and Uyghurs]."

"All of them are linked to China's repressive religious policies."

China has accused some Uighurs of waging a conflict for separatism, but human rights groups say the way Beijing is dealing with its Muslim minority in the region is fueling conflict.

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