Police in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region took in for questioning more than 170 Uyghurs who attended prayer services without permission from authorities during the Muslim Eid al-Adha holy days, a senior police officer said.
Authorities in Aykol township of Aksu city (in Chinese, Akesu) city allowed only Uyghurs over the age of 50 to participate in worship services during the holiday on July 20-23, the officer from the district’s police station told RFA last week.
Many of the 12 million Muslims in the XUAR celebrated Eid al-Adha, also known as Qurban Heyt (in Chinese, Gurban), with prayers, dancing and the slaughtering of goats or sheep as a religious sacrifice.
Authorities in a number of city and county centers throughout the XUAR had staged controlled displays of religious worship to counter accusations of widespread rights abuses in the region by opening a few long-shuttered mosques to the public during the Eid holy days to present a semblance of normalcy.
The senior police officer in Aykol told RFA that more than 170 Uyghurs accused of violating regulations regarding Eid prayers are currently being held in custody, though he said he could not comment on their whereabouts or whether they were being detained in “re-education” camps or detention centers.
“I believe there are more than 170 people,” he said.
“We told older people they could pray and young people they could not — those under 50,” he said.
Township residents said that authorities had taken “many neighbors” in for interrogations, but could not provide an estimate.
Authorities also conducted street patrols, raids of shops, and home searches as measures to control Uyghurs’ actions during the Muslim holy days, said the police officer.
Chinese authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking minorities in the XUAR in a network of detention camps since 2017. Beijing says the camps are vocational training centers aimed at combating religious extremism in the region, though inmates are held against their will and subjected to political indoctrination and serious human rights abuses.
Following this year’s Eid prayers in Aksu, police checked the identification cards and searched the homes of those who attended prayer services to verify that they were over 50 years old, said an Aykol resident who declined to be named for safety reasons.
Those whose IDs contained birth date discrepancies as well as Uyghurs that the police suspected of lying about their age were hauled in to the police station for questioning, the person said.
Local police did not go to the mosque themselves to investigate those attending prayer services, and instead used neighborhood spies who serve as the heads of units comprising 10 households each to learn whether some people had prayed secretly at home, other residents said.
Authorities placed black hoods on the heads of those who were reported on suspicion of having prayed illegally during Eid and took them away, they said.
Other township police officers contacted by RFA, including those from the Gulbagh Police Station in Kuchar (Kuche) county, Aksu prefecture, declined to answer questions about the situation.
A previous investigation by RFA found that since 2017 only individuals 60 years of age or older had been allowed to pray in Atush (Atushi), in the XUAR’s Kizilsu Kirghiz (Kezileisu Keerkezi) Autonomous Prefecture, and that authorities had detained violators in a camp.
“We say that people who are very old can pray, older men — people who are older than 60. They don’t even allow young people to go into the mosques,” a security officer from Suntagh village in Atush city previously told RFA.
“If people break the law we turn them over to the village brigade,” she said. “The village brigade takes them for re-education. Then we notify the family over the telephone.”
Religious restrictions for Eid al-Adha were somewhat eased in city and county centers this year, though they continued to be strictly upheld in villages and in countryside as they have in previous years, said a source familiar with the situation, but who requested anonymity to be able to speak freely without retaliation.
The regulations were aimed at preventing unrest and preserving stability by ensuring that Uyghurs did not create any incidents during the religious period, though the XUAR has not had any such protests or unrest since the beginning of the mass internment campaign.
In most townships throughout the region, at least one person from each Uyghur family remains in some form of detention, giving their relatives little reason to celebrate religious holidays, the person said.
According to an arrangement by China’s central government, various prefectures and townships in the XUAR introduced their own regulations for Eid al-Adha based on local conditions, the source said.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.