Chinese Muslims of the Hui ethnic minority pray during Eid Al Fitr prayers marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
Chinese Muslims have to pledge loyalty to the Communist Party before they can leave the country for the journey to Mecca
  • Tue, 04/24/2018 - 17:10

Rosie Perper and Tara Francis Chan

  • Some Chinese Muslims hoping to go on the annual Hajj pilgrimage must first pledge their allegiance to the Communist Party before they will be allowed to exit the country.
  • Uyghur Muslims from the Xinjiang autonomous region must create a profile online applying for permission to travel on the Hajj.
  • China has been cracking down on Uyghurs' freedom, limiting their ability to travel, communicate, and use technology.

Chinese Muslims from the autonomous Xinjiang region hoping to embark on the annual Hajj pilgrimage must first pledge their allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party.

A government website, operated by the Urumqi City Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee, requires local Muslims to submit a travel request to attend the Hajj by setting up an online profile.

The site asks users to register their age, job, health, and economic status and provides strict guidelines for applicants, who must be aged between 50 and 70 and have lived in Urumqi, the region's capital, for at least five years.

Users must also pledge allegiance to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and national unity.

Registration appears to now be closed but was open between September 1 2017 to November 1 2017. This indicates applicants for the 2018 Hajj, taking place in mid-August, may have been required to make the pledge.

China closely controls and vets applicants for the Hajj each year. Authorities seem to believe that religious travel for minority groups could act as "potential cover for subversive political activity,"Human Rights Watch has reported.

But while other regional government websites list similar conditions for Hajj applicants, these applications don't appear to require CCP allegiance. This indicates China is more concerned about subversive activity by Uyghurs in particular.

Uyghurs face strict travel laws and restrictive policies

A local woman on a crutch shouts at Chinese paramilitary police wearing riot gear as a crowd of angry locals confront security forces on a street in the city of Urumqi in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region on July 7, 2009. David Gray/Reuters

The Chinese government is increasingly monitoring and restricting travel by Uyghur Muslims in an attempt to crackdown on religious extremism.

In 2016, millions of Xinjiang residents were ordered to surrender their passports to local police for an "annual check" and had to seek permission from local authorities to travel abroad.

Rights groups said the act deliberately targeted the region's predominant Uyghur group, who make up about 49% of Xinjiang's population, in order to restrict their movements.

Timothy Grose, a China expert at the Rose Hulman Institute of Technology, first noticed the Urumqi site last week and told Business Insider that Uyghurs who have traveled abroad are "commonly targeted by authorities" and are forced into "extrajudicial detention centers," commonly referred to as re-education centers.

"From personal communication with some of my Uyghur friends and contacts, having a member of one's immediate family working or studying in one of the 'blacklisted countries' can also be grounds for arrest," Grose said.

Earlier this year, Radio Free Asia reported that around 120,000 Uyghurs had been sent to these camps in just one region of Xinjiang since April 2017. Many of them have been accused of harboring "extremist" and "politically incorrect" ideologies.

Less than two weeks ago, former member of China's national youth football team Erfan Hezima was sent to a re-education center. His crime was "visiting foreign countries" while training and playing international football matches, according to Radio Free Asia.

The US State Department's annual human rights report released last week reported Uyghurs' freedoms worsened over the last year and there are many cases of people who were "disappeared."

"In many cases individuals were detained upon returning home after studying abroad," the report said.

The group's religious identity has also been subject to crackdown

Uyghur men gather for a holiday meal during the Corban Festival on September 13, 2016 in Turpan County, in the far western Xinjiang province, China. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

But barring travel by Uyghurs is just one way the government has closely monitored the minority ethnic group.

Women have been banned from wearing burqas and veils and men have been jailed for refusing to shave their beards. Authorities have barred Xinjiang residents from fasting during Ramadan and ordered restaurants to stay open despite religious obligations.

Last year, Muslim children were forced to change overly Islamic names, and adults were coerced into attending rallies which pledged allegiance to the atheist Communist Party. Mosques have also been forced to push propaganda, swapping inscriptions about Muhammad for red banners that declare, "Love the Party, Love the Country."

Additionally, government surveillance in the region has continued to widen.

Chinese authorities recently began collecting DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types from all Xinjiang residents aged between 12 and 65. They have also collected voice samples that may be used to identify voices on phone calls.

Additionally, authorities use an expansive network of 40,000 facial-recognition cameras and have been installing surveillance apps on residents' phones.

The US State Department has called on China to end these policies.

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