A ruling Communist party official in China’s volatile Uygur Muslim majority Xinjiang province was demoted for not “daring” to smoke in front of local religious leaders which is regarded as a sign of timidity in fighting against religious extremism. Jelil Matniyaz, the party chief of a village in Hotan, Xinjiang was demoted from “senior staff member” to “staff member” on March 25 for his “infirm political stands…and for being afraid to smoke in front of religious figures,” a notice posted on the Hotan Daily’s social media WeChat account said. “Smoking is a personal choice, and religious and ordinary people should respect each other, but his behaviour of ‘not daring’ to smoke conforms with extreme religious thought in Xinjiang,” the Global Times quoted a Hotan official as saying. “As a party chief, he should lead the fight against extreme religious thought, otherwise, he would fail to confront the threat of extreme regional forces,” the official said. “According to local religion customs, smoking is not allowed in front of older or religious people,” Turgunjun Tursun, a professor with the Zhejiang Normal University, told the Global Times on Monday.
However, some religious people force ordinary citizens also to comply with the requirements, a senior official who had been working in Xinjiang for years, told the Global Times. The official’s demotion is an isolated case, Tursun said, adding that the local government should balance de-extremist behaviour and local customs in the crackdown on extremism. The move to demote the official comes as authorities intensified their efforts to curb religious extremism, state-run Global Times reported on Tuesday.
Early this month, the province where the Chinese security forces are battling recurring attacks by Uygur militants enacted a new law banning a wide range of acts, including wearing veils or growing “abnormal” beards. In Xinjiang, the Turkic speaking Uygurs are restive for several years over increasing settlements of Han population from other provinces.
China blames separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an Al-Qaeda affiliated group for the spate of violent attacks in the province. A number of its members reported to have joined the Islamic State militant group to fight in Syria. China believes apprehends that they would return to carry out attacks in the country.
Xinjiang issued a regional anti-extremism regulation in March which bans supporting extremism and curtailing religious freedom and activities. The anti-extremism campaign also requires officials to inform local residents about some customs that are used by religious extremists, Tursun said. Other 96 Hotan officials were also named and shamed in the notice for violating disciplinary regulations, including lax work styles, dereliction of duty, and bribery.