BEIJING - Authorities in China's restive northwestern region of Xinjiang have banned Muslim officials and students from fasting during Ramadan, prompting an exiled rights group to warn of new violence.
Guidance posted on numerous government websites called on Communist Party leaders to restrict Muslim religious activities during the holy month, including fasting and visiting mosques.
Xinjiang is home to around nine million Uighurs, a Turkic speaking, largely Muslim ethnic minority, many of whom accuse China's leaders of religious and political persecution.
The region has been rocked by repeated outbreaks of ethnic violence, but China denies claims of repression and relies on tens of thousands of Uighur officials to help it govern Xinjiang.
A statement from Zonglang township in Xinjiang's Kashgar district said that "the county committee has issued comprehensive policies on maintaining social stability during the Ramadan period.
"It is forbidden for Communist Party cadres, civil officials (including those who have retired) and students to participate in Ramadan religious activities."
The statement, posted on the Xinjiang government website, urged party leaders to bring "gifts" of food to local village leaders to ensure that they were eating during Ramadan.
Similar orders on curbing Ramadan activities were posted on other local government websites, with the educational bureau of Wensu county urging schools to ensure that students do not enter mosques during Ramadan.
The holy month began in Xinjiang on July 20. The orders to curb religious activities were sent out across the region at different times, some before the start of Ramadan and some afterwards.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and strive to be more pious and charitable.
An exiled rights group, the World Uyghur Congress, warned the policy would force "the Uighur people to resist (Chinese rule) even further."
"By banning fasting during Ramadan, China is using administrative methods to force the Uighur people to eat in an effort to break the fasting," said group spokesman Dilshat Rexit in a statement.
Xinjiang saw its worst ethnic violence in recent times in July, 2009, when Uighurs attacked members of the nation's dominant Han ethnic group in the city of Urumqi, sparking clashes in which 200 people from both sides died, according to the government.