A file photo of a mosque in East Turkistan

By Ahmed Fathi, IOL Staff

CAIRO, February 3 (IslamOnline.net) – Chinese authorities should end restrictions on Muslims in Xinjiang, known as East Turkistan, and allow the community to have contacts with the Muslim world, an expert on Asian affairs told IslamOnline.net.

“Beijing has to adopt a transparent policy on the conditions of Muslims in East Turkistan, allowing field visits to the region, and the community to be in touch with Muslims in other parts of the world,” Mohamed Sayyed Selim, an Egyptian expert on Asian affairs, told IOL Wednesday, February 2.

The Chinese government was quick to deny recent accusations of human rights violations in the region, saying religious freedom is guaranteed in the multi-ethnic entity.

However, complaints of Muslims continue to flow in, ranging from deprivation of basic rights as education and freedom of movement to the forced migration of Muslims from the region, where large oil reserves have recently been discovered.

Demographic Change

Some 600 Muslims were forced out of the region after the huge oil finds, and Chinese authorities had encouraged two million Chinese to settle in, in a bid to change its demographic nature, a Muslim Chinese of a Turkistani origin told IslamOnline.net.

Only giving her first name as Ashgan, the woman argued the resettlement is part of a larger trend targeting the region’s Muslim community.

Last year, the government did not prevent the publication of books attacking Islam, and several Muslim scholars were detained, she claimed.

The books are entitled as “Islam against Science”, “Islam is invention of the Arab Rich” and “Islam Serving Colonialism”.

Several international human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have repeatedly criticized Beijing for human rights violations against Muslims in East Turkistan.

Muslims are the largest ethnic group in the region, making 40 percent of the population. The region is one of the country’s largest.

Removing Islamic Identity

Furthermore, the Turkistan Press Center accused the Beijing government of seeking to change the Islamic identity of East Turkistan — once an autonomous region ruled by Muslims until 1949.

The authorities of the district of Kashgar, for one, set fire to 32,320 books, including copies of Qur’an — the holy book of Muslims -– and replaced the local language of Uighur into Chinese, the center said on its Web site.

Turkistani people are deprived of education, freedom of speech or movement, and they were also excluded from taking over top posts, it added.

The charges were, however, dismissed by the Chinese government, claiming keenness for Muslims to practice their religion and for developing the poor region economically.

“Religious activities in China are protected by law and religious scholars have the right to join running the affairs of the country,” said Luo Xiaoguang, a press attaché in the Chinese Embassy in Cairo.

Luo stressed that Chinese constitution bans the persecution of specific religion or ethnicity, noting that China has 30,000 mosques including 23,000 in East Turkistan.

“Furthermore, the government has laid down a plan for developing the region, which is to allow the Gross National Product (GNP) to hit 210 billion Yuan in 2005,” said Luo.

Transparency

Nevertheless, Beijing still faces calls for ending the state of obscurity imposed by the government on the situation in the region.

Muslims should be allowed to contact with those of other parts of the Muslim world, said Selim.

As the government has sought to develop the region economically, it has also moved to combat the separatist Uighur groups in East Turkistan, Selim said.

Also, he added, Beijing has placed the names of separatist leaders on an international list to face them, adding a reference to “Islamic terrorism” in its discourse.

The Egyptian expert noted how Muslims in Turkistan were affected by the Islamic rising in the Muslim world in the 1970s and by independence movements in neighboring Central Asia.

“Some groups had resorted to violence to push for its independence.”

Earlier Tension

Calling for close ties between Muslims across the world and those of China, Selim stressed that Muslims are generally keen for China to maintain its territorial integrity and its rise as a counterbalance to America as a superpower.

“That would serve the causes of Muslims and other fair cases.”

Amnesty International issued in 2002 an extensive report on the policies of the Chinese government towards the Muslim minority in East Turkistan. The 24-page document details the various legislative provisions recently introduced into Chinese law with a view to curbing “terrorist, separatist and illegal religious activities.”

Violent opposition to Chinese rule in East Turkistan is reportedly sporadic, with occasional bombings or shootings taking place and are met with a terrible fury by the Chinese security forces.

Every so often, reports are issued about the arrest, trial and execution of “terrorists” or “ethnic splittists” as the Chinese insist on calling them. Even peaceful protests are met with excessive force.

Two percent of China’s population is Muslim; a deceptively small statistic until one realizes the reference is to a country with a population of 1.2 billion, leading to a total of 24 million.

The country has 55 officially recognized ethnic groups.