It’s the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which means Muslims across the globe are are fasting from dawn til sunset — everywhere, that is, except in northwestern China.
Authorities in the Turkestan district of Xinjiang have banned Muslim Uighurs from fasting or taking part in any other religious activities associated with Ramadan. Officials say they’re looking to protect the health and well-being of youths and block institutions from promoting religion. But rights groups say the ban–is part of an ongoing crackdown on the religious minority, who number about 8 million in China.
“Uighurs are seen by Beijing as an ethno-nationalist threat to the Chinese state,” Human Rights Watch said. “As Islam is perceived as underpinning Uighur ethnic identity, China has taken draconian steps to smother Islam as a means of subordinating Uighur nationalist sentiment.”
This isn’t the first time Xinjiang has prohibited Uighurs from observing the fast, one of the five pillars of the Muslim faith. But this year’s ban is especially significant, as it comes in the midst of an unprecedented crackdown on Uighurs following a series of attacks over the last few months blamed on the Muslim minority. These include a brutal attack in the Kunming train station March 1, when eight assailants carrying large knives killed 29 people and injured 143.
China has linked the attacks to global radical Islam, according to the Uighur Human Rights Project.