China’s Ramadan restriction decried

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Originally published by The Gulf Today on June 20, 2015

CAIRO: The leading Muslim seat of learning, Al Azhar, condemned China on Friday for imposing restrictions on fasting in its mainly Muslim Xinjiang region during the Holy Month of Ramadan.

China has banned civil servants, students and teachers in Xinjiang from fasting during Ramadan, which began on Thursday, and ordered restaurants to stay open.
“Al Azhar and its Grand Imam, Ahmed Al Tayeb, condemn the Chinese authorities’ ban on Muslims from fasting and practising their religious rituals during Ramadan in some parts of the western Xinjiang region,” said a statement from the Cairo-based institution.

“Al Azhar rejects all forms of oppression practised against Uighur Muslims in China that affect their religious rights and personal freedoms,” said the prestigious institution, demanding that the international community, the United Nations and human rights groups end these violations. Muslims fast from dawn to dusk during Ramadan, but China’s ruling Communist Party is officially atheist and for years has restricted the practice in Xinjiang, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.

China says it faces a terrorist threat in Xinjiang, with officials blaming “religious extremism” for growing violence.

Uighur rights groups say China’s restrictions on Muslims in Xinjiang have added to ethnic tensions there, where clashes have killed hundreds in recent years.

Separately, three Chinese rights activists on trial for distributing books advocating a peaceful end to dictatorships on Friday dismissed their lawyers, bringing a halt to the proceedings.

The trial in the southern city of Guangzhou comes as President Xi Jinping’s government has ratcheted up pressure on dissent, wary of any organised challenge to the rule of the Communist Party.

The activists, among them prominent human rights lawyer Tang Jingling, were arrested last June for “inciting subversion,” a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, although lawyers expect they could face terms of up to five years.

Police accused Tang, 44, Yuan Xinting, 44, and Wang Qingying, 31, of “publicly inciting others to participate in a non-violent civil disobedience movement,” according to a copy of the indictment published online by US-based rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

The men distributed books such as Gene Sharp’s “From Dictatorship to Democracy” and “Self-Liberation,” police said, and accused Tang of “instigating others to participate in the non-violent ‘Citizen Non-co-operation Movement’.”

Tang’s wife Wang Yanfang told Reuters that Tang dismissed his lawyers after the court rejected requests to call witnesses and to keep Communist Party members off the bench, causing the suspension of the trial.

The other two defendants followed suit, Wang added. Telephone calls to the court, seeking comment, went unanswered.

Foreign diplomats were barred from the courthouse, said Liu Zhengqing, one of Tang’s lawyers.

The US Embassy said it was “deeply concerned” about the trial and called for the release of the activists.

Lawyers for the three men said they would enter not-guilty pleas “because we can’t see what crimes they have committed,” Sui Muqing, a lawyer for Wang, told Reuters before the trial.

Tang was dismissed from his law firm after he gave legal aid to villagers in Guangdong in 2005, as they sought to remove an allegedly corrupt village leader. Wang, who taught at a university in Guangdong, and Yuan, who was formerly an editor, were both fired from their jobs after they signed the “Charter 08” manifesto, Chinese Human Rights Defenders said.

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