In an apparent attempt to check growing influence of religion on local residents, Chinese authorities in Xinjiang province have ordered Uighur Muslim shopkeepers to sell alcohol and cigarettes or be ready to face closure and legal action.
In a statement issued last week, authorities in Laskuy Township of Xinjiang region asked shopkeepers to not only to sell five different brands alcohol and cigarettes but also ordered them to display them in an ‘eye catching manner’.
“All restaurants and supermarkets in our village should place five different brands of alcohol and cigarettes in their shops before [May 1, 2015],” read the statement, warning that people failed to comply with the instruction would face legal action beside shops being sealed.
The notice, which was signed by the Aktash village Party Committee of Laskuy Township, stated that the order had come from the top echelons of ruling Communist Party, aimed at providing greater convenience to the public.
Communist party official in Aktash village Adil Sulayman said that the new policy was part of an effort to undermine the influence of Islam in the area.
Claiming that since 2012 people in the region have stopped selling alcohol and cigarettes through their businesses due to public scorn, Sulayman revealed “We have a campaign to weaken religion here and this is part of that campaign.”
Pointing out at the widespread abstention from smoking and drinking, the official claimed that 70-80 per cent of people aged 16-45 are refraining from these acts, considering them as ‘taboo’.
In Xinjiang region, where China has launched ‘strike hard’ campaign in the name of fighting extremism, authorities view non-smoking Muslim Uighurs as adhering to “a form of religious extremism.”
Sulayman added that around 60 shops and restaurants in the area had complied with the government instruction, and there were no reports of protests.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of religious repression against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang in the name of counter terrorism.
Last month, China forced imams in Xinjiang region to dance in the street and swear to an oath that they would not teach religion to children.
Similarly, the northern Xinjiang city of Karamay prohibited young men with beards and women in burqas or hijabs from boarding public buses.
China had also banned Muslim students and government staff from observing fasts in the month of Ramadan.
This article originally appeared in Radio Free Asia