Chinese authorities have begun requiring shops in the majority-Muslim province of Xinjiang to sell alcohol and cigarettes in prominent displays in attempts to “weaken religion.”
Radio Free Asia reported Monday that the government, which officially espouses Communist atheism, is enforcing the new law in the village of Atkash with threats that noncompliant Muslim shopkeepers “will see their shops sealed off, their business suspended, and legal action pursued against them.”
Mainstream Islamic practice forbids the consumption of alcohol. Many pious Muslims today also avoid tobacco, a preference that a local official told RFA represents “religious extremism.”
Xinjiang is called East Turkestan by many of its inhabitants, who belong to the Uyghur ethnic group and many of whom support independence from China. Some local separatists have pursued their goals through violence, claiming links to al-Qaida and perpetrating attacks in public places. (RELATED: Obama Will Finally Appear With The Dalai Lama)
The enforced sale of religiously prohibited products is nothing new for China’s Xinjiang policy. In recent years, China has tried to stave off violent incidents by targeting overt expressions of Islamic piety, penalizing locals for growing long beards, fasting during the month of Ramadan.
Critics of China’s anti-Islam policies in Xinjiang call it a hypocritical measure that it only applies selectively. For instance, China does not enforce such draconian measures against the Hui ethnic group, which is also traditionally Muslim.
They also allege that the country is attempting to homogenize Xinjiang’s religious and cultural identity, noting that China has resettled millions of ethnic Chinese in the region.
The country has also accelerated restrictions on other religious practices in recent years. In 2014, an officially registered Protestant church in Wenzhou made headlines after the government forcibly removed its steeple. Christian groups outside the select few that are overseen by the government are banned entirely and forced to operate underground. Another group, a spiritual movement called Falun Gong, is reportedly the target of a massive campaign of organ harvesting and imprisonment.
And practitioners of Tibet’s strain of traditional Buddhism have suffered persecution in China for decades. Since the government claims that it can authorize or reject the reincarnated successor of the current Dalai Lama, the monk has said he may forego the option of reincarnating entirely.
It is unclear whether the new Chinese policy is inspired by recent moves in the United States, which force wedding vendors and other business owners to cater events that they do not recognize on religious grounds.
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