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The 20th Press Conference on Xinjiang-related Issues
2020-12-29 05:25

On December 9, 2020, the Information Office of the People's Government of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region held the 20th press conference on Xinjiang related issues. The press conference invited the Spokesperson of the Information Office of the People's Government of XUAR Elijan Anayit, the Imam of Yanghang Mosque in Urumqi City Muhtiram Sherip,the Imam of Tuanjie Mosque in Korla City of Bayingol Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture Iminjan Keram,the Hatif of Jama Mosque in Hotan City of Hotan Prefecture Obulhasan Tursunniyaz,the student of Ili Branch of Xinjiang Islamic Institute Tursunbay Meyimhan,the Akhund of Shanxi Mosque in Hutubi County of Hui Autonomous Prefecture of Changji Yang Jie and the religious believer of Towanki Baldang Village in Igarchi Township of Aksu City Mamat Ahat to answer questions from the press.

Host of press conference: Deputy Head of the Publicity Department of the CPC Xinjiang Committee Xu Guixiang

Xu Guixiang: Dear friends from the media, good afternoon. Welcome to the press conference on Xinjiang-related issues.

Today, we are very happy to have the Spokesperson of the Information Office of the People's Government of XUAR Elijan Anayit, the Imam of Yanghang Mosque in Urumqi City Muhtiram Sherip,the Imam of Tuanjie Mosque in Korla City of Bayingol Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture Iminjan Keram,the Hatif of Jama Mosque in Hotan City of Hotan Prefecture Obulhasan Tursunniyaz,the student of Ili Branch of Xinjiang Islamic Institute Tursunbay Meyimhan,the Akhund of Shanxi Mosque in Hutubi County of Hui Autonomous Prefecture of Changji Yang Jie,the religious believer of Towanki Baldang Village and the religious believer of Igarchi Township in Aksu City Mamat Ahat to be present at the press conference. We would like to invite them to answer questions from you.

Also, we are very happy to have reporters from 4 foreign media to be present, namely the ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen) of Germany,Kyodo News Service, Kyodo Tsushinsha of Japan,China Arab TV and Indonesia Antara News Agency who will interact with us through video connections.

To show our welcome, we first invite friends from foreign media to ask questions.

ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen) of Germany: What's the current situation of religious freedom in Xinjiang? Does it mean that religious freedom is restricted because all religious venues and activities required the approval by the bureau of religious affairs in China? Could those trainees conduct normal religious activities in the vocational education and training centers? Who decides the content and scope of feasible religious activities in Xinjiang? The Bureau of Religious Affairs, the CPC or President Xi Jinping?

Xu Guixiang: This question goes to the Spokesperson of Information Office of the People's Government of XUAR Elijan Anayit.

Elijan Anayit: The Constitution of the People's Republic of China stipulates that "citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious beliefs", "The state protects the normal religious activities", "No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion". The local government of Xinjiang also promulgates relevant local rules and regulations like the Regulations of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on Religious Affairs. These laws and regulations provide legal grounds protecting citizens' freedom of religious beliefs.

In Xinjiang, all citizens enjoy the same rights to policy, economy, society, culture and so on. It is a completely independent choice of citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion. There are 103 Islamic associations in Xinjiang in charge of coordinating and resolving religious internal affairs. All normal religious activitiesthat believers conducted at venues or their own homes, including attending religious services, fasting and celebrating religious festivals, are in accordance with customary religious practices with no organizations or individuals could interfere in.

The issue you mentioned as"whether trainees could conduct normal religious activities or not", has been introduced by us for many times. The vocational education and training centers were schools in nature. These centers practiced the separation of education and religion in management, so the trainees could not organize or take part in religious activities, but they could decide on their own whether to do so on a legal basis when they get home.In December 9, 2019, all the trainees in the vocational education and training centers that involved learning the standard spoken and written Chinese language, legal knowledge, skills and deradicalization had completed their courses. They are leading a normal life. They could decide whether to take part in religious activities or not on their free wills.

In accordance with the Regulations on Religious Affairs of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the departments of religious affairs register religious venues, which gives its legal status and protect its legal rights. The regulation clearly stipulates that the venues enjoy the right to establish democratic management organizations, manage their internal affairs, organize and conduct religious activities, receive donations, manage and use property, and initiate public welfare programs. The legitimate rights and interests of the venues are protected by law, and no infringement or intervention by any organization or individual is allowed. Clerical personnel in Xinjiang enjoy the right to preside over religious activities and ceremonies, and may receive social and individual donations.

The freedom of religious belief in Xinjiang today cannot be denied by anyone who respects the facts. Xinjiang's policy in respecting and protecting freedom of religious belief has won positive comments across the international community, Muslim countries included. The Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation adopted a resolution commending Xinjiang's efforts in providing care to its Muslim citizens in March 2019.Over a period of time, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)was invited to send delegations to visit Xinjiang for twice. The delegations highly appraised the efforts of Xinjiang in attaching great importance to the protection of Muslims'rights and interests as well as in anti-terrorism and deradicalization.

Xu Guixiang: Thank you for your answer, Elijan Anayit. Please go ahead to raise questions, media friends.

Kyodo News Service, Kyodo Tsushinsha of Japan:Thank you, the host.There are some very devout Muslims who originally hoped to live in strict accordance with Islamic precepts, but this does not mean that they have extremist ideas such as creating ethnic separatism or terrorism. However, over the past five years, the Chinese authorities have been promoting religious sinicization policies, so some of the people concerned are accused or educated because they grow beard, because some women wear hijab or because they invite others to believe in their religion. Will the authorities classify those devout Muslims and extremists into one group for the same treatment? Does religious sinicization mean that the faith in traditional doctrines is not allowed to be respected?

Xu Guixiang: This question goes to the Imam of Tuanjie Mosque in Korla City of Bayingol Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture Iminjan Keram.

Iminjan Keram: Hello, everyone. My name is Iminjan Keram, and I am the Imam of Tuanjie Mosque in Tuanjie Sub-district of Korla City. I have been serving as the Imam of this mosque for 20 years. Those who came to our mosque for religious activities are of different ethnic groups, including Uygur, Hui and Dongxiang Muslims. This is also why our mosque is called Tuanjie Mosque.

Over aperiod of time in the past, religious extremists and terrorists, in the guise of religion, deceitfully used the Muslims' religious belief to spread religious extremism. They brainwashed people with the jihad, abetting them to "die for their belief in order to enter heaven", and "eliminate kafirs". They incited the religious believers and turned some of the most susceptible followers into extremists and terrorists who heartlessly slaughtered a large number of innocent people. They have conducted thousands of violent terrorist attacks, killing many religious personnel, sabotaging social stability, ethnic solidarity and religious harmony, causing enormous suffering to all ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Responding to the severe and complex counter-terrorism situation and the different ethnic groups' urgent demand of curbing the spread of religious extremism, cracking down on violent terrorist crimes and protecting their life and property safety, Xinjiang has lawfully launched counter-terrorism and deradicalization endeavors. The autonomous region has taken legal measures in fighting againstcriminal activities of terrorism and extremism which use religion as a guise, and protecting the basic human rights of all ethnic groups including Muslims, such as their rights to life, health and development. We firmly support this.

The efforts in counter-terrorism and deradicalization in Xinjiang have never targeted any specific religion or ethnic group, and has never equated devout religious believers with extremists. We all think that religious extremism, under the banner of Islam, is totally against the religious doctrines, it is not thereal Islam. It is actually an anti-human, anti-social, anti-civilization and anti-religious malignant tumor, which runs counter to the creeds which concern patriotism, peace, solidarity, moderation, tolerance and benevolence advocated by Islam and many other religions. As far as I know, those punished by the government are religious extremists, not devout Muslims, in this way, the government protects our normal religious activities as well.

In my view, what the Chinese government proposes as religions adapt to China's reality is not at all as you mentioned "faith in traditional doctrines is not allowed to be respected". On the contrary, the proposal aims to promote the healthy inheritance and development of religions. As to our Muslims, we should love our homeland, maintain national unity, abide by laws and regulations and conduct religious activities according to laws. We should oppose religious extremism, inherit religious doctrines of patriotism, peace, unity, moderation, tolerance, benevolence and others, fulfill social responsibility, and make contributions to maintain Xinjiang's social stability and long-lasting peace.

Xu Guixiang: Thank you for your answer,Iminjan Keram. Please go ahead to ask questions.

China Arab TV: Thank you, the host.I have two questions,

1.Recently, some Western media accused that China has demolished mosques in Ninxia and Xinjiang, and the question is if there is no mosque, where should the Muslims go for praying?

2.Some western media also claimed that China controls and restricts the freedom of Muslims under the cover of COVID-19, forcing them eat foods that are not halal, don't these Muslims have rights of choice?

Xu Guixiang: The first question goes to the Hatif of Jama Mosque in Hotan City of Hotan Prefecture Obulhasan Tursunniyaz.

Obulhasan Tursunniyaz: My name is Obulhasan Tursunniyaz, a Hatif of Jamah Mosque in Hotan City and I'm 54 years old. I'm glad to meet you all. I can tell you for sure that the situation of forced demolishing or damaging mosques has never happened in Xinjiang.

In my memory, mosques in the old times were very small and in poor condition, the smallest one could allow only a few people to pray at the same time. Some were very shabby with walls built by tree branches which could barely resist any wind. When caught by sandstorms, there's no difference between the inside and outside of the room with dusts everywhere. When it was raining, muddy waterflowing down along the walls from the ceiling. There were big holes at the foot of wall, the house seemed to fall apart at any time. And the worst case would be the earthquake, there will be no safety at all during the prayer.With the rapid social development in recent years, townships and villages are becoming more and more beautiful. Quite a number of local Muslims appealed that some old and dilapidated mosques need repair and renovation. Our voices were heard and our suggestion won attention from local authorities. So new mosques have been built up, while some old ones were relocated or expanded in line with local urban and rural construction plan. As a result, the conditions of religious practices have been improved greatly, and our fellow Muslims are satisfied. Let me give you an example, the Hotan Jamah Mosque where I served was firstly built in 1848, covering an area of 4816 square meters with construction area of 2376 square meters. In 1997 and 2019, the Mosque has undergone twice renovation under the help of government. Now the Mosque has bright and spacious hall, which is clean and tidy with pleasing environment. Also, the mosque is equipped with air conditioners in summer, heaters and hot water in winter. The condition is really great.

Some people overseas smeared China's demolishing of mosques with ill-intention. They just want to instigate disorder between us and the government, creating conflicts between Muslims and non-believers and destroying our harmonious lives.We will not fall into their trap!

Xu Guixiang: Thank you for your answer,Obulhasan Tursunniyaz.The second question goes to the Akhund of Shanxi Mosque in Hutubi County of Hui Autonomous Prefecture of Changji Yang Jie.

Yang Jie: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Yang Jie.I'm the Standing Member of Islamic Association inHui Autonomous Prefecture of Changji, president of Islamic Association of Hutubi County, Akhund of Shanxi Mosque in Hutubi County.

In Xinjiang, the eating habits of Muslims of different ethnic groups have been fully respected and protected. Xinjiang promulgated the Regulations on Muslim Foods Management in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to ensure the management of halal foods has followed the orbit of law. Halal foods are produced, processed, stored, transported and sold strictly in line with the regulation. Large and medium-sized cities, small towns where Muslims live as well as communication hubs are required to operate definite numbers of halal restaurants. In public organs, units, enterprises and schools with Muslim employees and students, halal canteens or catering must be set up. Halal restaurants are available everywhere in the place where I live, the Hutubi County, be my guests if you want to visit and I will guide you around to taste our delicious foods.

Since this year, Xinjiang has been caught by COVID-19, and thanks to the strict preventive and control measures taken by local government, the epidemic has been put under control soon. Our normal religious activities were not affected by the epidemic. During the epidemic, the supply of halal foods was sufficient, there's no shortage of beef and mutton, the prices were also reasonable. All the Muslims are content.

Xu Guixiang: Thank you for your answer,Yang Jie. Please go ahead to ask questions.

Indonesia Antara News Agency: Thank you, the host.I have three questions to ask.

1.How did Muslims of Xinjiang conduct the five daily prayers and fasting during Ramadan?

2.What did the Xinjiang's government do to help Muslim students to learn knowledge of Islam?

3.Concerning public services and business activities, were Uygurs and Han people been treated equally?

Xu Guixiang: The first two question goes to the student of Ili Branch of Xinjiang Islamic Institute Tursunbay Meyimhan.

Tursunbay Meyimhan: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Tursunbay Meyimhan. I'm the Imam of Tursun Tolha Mosque in Husumtu Harsun Township, Zhaosu County, Kazak Autonomous Prefecture of Ili. I am now studying at Ili Branch of Xinjiang Islamic Institute.

Fasting is one of the five pillars for all Muslims. All Muslims in Xinjiang would follow the Islamic traditions to fast in the daytime and break it at night during Ramadan. Someone chooses to do five prayers in the mosques or at home. They would do Salat al-taraweeh after eveningIsha in the mosques. The government of Xinjiangintroduced rules that people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang enjoy one day holiday to celebrateEid Al Fitr (Festival of fast-breaking). Muslims ofall ethnics in Xinjiang would do Eid Salah in the mosque on fast-breading day. During the Ramadan in the year 2020, all the religious activities have been carried out normally everyday on the premise of obeyingthe requirements of epidemic preventive and control measures. The government has arranged specialized medical personnel to provide medical support at the Mosque. Tea, Nan and fruits were also provided for fast breaking.

Tursunbay Meyimhan: Muslims in Xinjiang learn knowledge of Islam through many channels. Take myself as an example, before learning at the Islamic Institute, I studied with the Imam in the mosque. Then Ipassed the entrance exam of Yili Branch School of Xinjiang Islamic Institute. I learned Koran chanting, Hadithand religious knowledge on the guidance of religious administration. I also read many Islamic classics in my spare time. Beside these, many Muslims could study on China Islamic Association website or through Appslike Wechat, Weibo and Tiktok on smart phones.

Xu Guixiang: Thank you for your answer,Tursunbay Meyimhan. The third question goes to the religious believer of Towanki Baldang Village in Igarchi Township of Aksu City Mamat Ahat.

Mamat Ahat: Hello everyone, my name is Mamat Ahat, I'm 31 years old, I'm a farmer of Towanki Baldang Village, Igarchi Township, Aksu City.

In our country, all ethnics are equally treated. We Uygurs, like Han ethnicity, enjoy all kinds of government preferential policies equally. For example, insouthern Xinjiang, the expenditures of tuition fee, textbooks and accommodation for children of all ethnics from kindergarten to senior high school areall covered by the government. Nutritious meals were also provided free of charge as well. We enjoy medical insurance when we have diseases, endowment insurance when we are old. We enjoy several kinds of subsidies on housing, agriculture, machinery, seed, land, etc.

As for me, I was short of money for opening a store in 2008. Village committee learned about my difficulties and helped me to handle the procedures foryouth venture subsidized loans. I got 60,000 yuan loans from the bank to open my store. I also have one hectare of fruit garden. I spent 37,000 yuan to buy a tractor with 14,200 yuan of government machinery subsidy to increase both production and income. My Han friend,YinChuan gives me technical support in my garden every year, helping me with pruning fruit trees, scientific fertilizing and field managing. With his help, my garden generates net income of 25,000 yuan annually. In the past, all five members of my family squeezed in a 3-room mud-brick house, which was very old and unsafe. With the housing subsidy of 30,000 yuan, Ihave built a new house, which is cozy and safe. There's even flushed toilet and bathroom in my house. Now we are enjoying the same living standards just like people who live in the cities, we all feel very happy. Thank you.

Xu Guixiang: Thank you for your answer,Mamat Ahat.Please go ahead to raise questions.

Xinjiang Branch of Xinhua News Agency: Thank you the host,I have two questions to ask.

1.According to information, in Pope Francis's new book, China's Uygurs are called "persecuted people". What do you think of this issue?

2.Some overseas media reports say that China is "restricting freedom of religious beliefs","only allowing those 65 years old and above to fulfill their religious obligations", and"banning distribution of religious publications without government approval". Are these reports accurate?

Xu Guixiang: The first question goes to the Spokesperson of Information Office of the People's Government of XUAR Elijan Anayit.

Elijan Anayit: With regard to your first question, labeling Uygurs as "a persecuted people"has no support of facts or evidence. China is home to 56 ethnic groups, Uygurs are an equal member of the Chinese nation. The Chinese Constitution and the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy prescribe that "all ethnic groups in China are equal and the state protects the lawful rights and interests of ethnic minorities." People of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang including Uygurs enjoy equal legal status, the right to vote and to stand for election, and all other rights, such as to participate in the administration of state affairs, freedom of religious belief, to receive education, to use and develop their own spoken and written languages, and to preserve their traditional cultures and customs.

Meanwhile, all ethnic groups in Xinjiang enjoy full rights to subsistence and development. Xinjiang allocates 70% of the general annual fiscal revenue for guaranteeing and improving the people's livelihood through an array of benefiting-people projects in employment, culture, education and medical care. In terms of employment, a dynamic mechanism has been put in place to ensure at least one member of zero-employment families get employed. In terms of education, we are pushing for integrative development of rural-urban education and the enrollment rate of schooling children in compulsory education hovers at 99.9%. Nine-year compulsory education covers the whole region, while southern Xinjiang enjoys 3-year free preschool education and 12-year free elementary education. In terms of health and medical care, free physical examination has become popularized to all residents in Xinjiang, with the participation rates of basic medical insurance, old-age pension and major illness insurance for impoverished people reached full coverage. All the poverty-stricken rural population has been lifted out of poverty by current standards, making the historical extreme poverty to an end in Xinjiang. All Uygur people have shared the fruits of development and fulfilled their dream of living inpeaceand contentment, which is reflected on their faces and rooted in their hearts. You can visit cities and countrysides in Xinjiang to take a look at how Uygur people eat, live and wear. Come and see whether they are going through the so called "persecution" or not.

Xu Guixiang: Thank you for your answer,Elijan Anayit.The second question goes to the Imam of Yanghang Mosque in Urumqi City Muhtiram Sherip.

Muhtiram Sherip: Good afternoon, I am Muhtiram Sherip, Standing Member of China Islamic Association,Member of Academic Affairs Steering Committee of China Islamic Association, Deputy Secretary-General of Xinjiang Islamic Association and Imam of Yanghang Mosque in Urumqi. Just now, you mentioned that Xinjiang restricts the freedom of religious beliefs, that is not the fact.

I have been the Imam of Yanghang Mosque for nine years. Built in 1897, the 120-year-old mosque covers over 5,000 square meters with over 3,000 square meters constructed floor area. The praying hall accommodates more than 2,000 believers at once. Nearby Muslims including Uygurs, Kazakhs and Hui practise their daily prayers, Friday prayers and Eid Salah on Id al-Fitr and Id al-Kurban at the mosque. The Mosque is also a prayer place for Muslim students, businessmen and travelers from India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and other countries. I've never heard of such a restriction only allowing those 65 years old and above to fulfill their religious obligations.

Besides the 1,800 plus books covering history, culture, science and technology, religious publications such as Arabic-scripted Koran and Selections from Al-Sahih Muhammad Ibn-Ismail al-Bukhari are also featured in the mosque's library for the convenience of Muslims in accessing information and knowledge.Welcome to visit our mosque.

Xinjiang has 103 Islamic associations: one being the provincial, 14 prefectural, and 88 at county or district level. There are 10 Islamic institutions in the region: the Xinjiang Islamic Institute and its eight branches, and the Xinjiang Islamic School. These institutions of Islamic learning have guaranteed a sound and orderly inheritance of Islam. Each mosque has a democratic management committee consisting of representatives of religious personnel and believers to participate in self-management of the mosque and religious activities.

In recent years, we have invited renowned religious figures from Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and other countries to hold "Seminars on Moderation in Islam in Urumqi"; the Yanghang mosque has received delegations of OIC and religious groups from Indonesia, Malaysia and Afghanistan, which all gave highly remarks on China's efforts in providing care to its Muslim citizens.

Xu Guixiang: Thank you for your answer,Muhtiram Sherip. Today's press conference concludes now. Thanks all the invitees and media friends.

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