Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region have seized tens of thousands of matchboxes in the latest stage of their security crackdown in the restive region, according to official notices.
Police have made hundreds of arrests, suspects have been paraded at a mass sentencing rally and armed patrols have taken to the streets of cities across the country after a spate of deadly attacks that authorities blame on Islamist extremists and separatists from the northwestern region.
Critics argue that cultural and religious restrictions, large-scale Han migration and economic inequalities have fueled anger among Xinjiang’s Uighur Muslim population.
Religious controls appear to have been extended during the holy month of Ramadan, with authorities ordering students and civil servants not to fast.
Notices posted on the Web sites of colleges and government departments said the ban was intended to promote the well-being of young people and prevent educational institutions being used to promote religion.
Academics say that while such policies have been enforced in parts of Xinjiang for several years, they now appear to be more widespread and explicit. Uighur exiles have said such measures will increase tensions in the region.
On Sunday, Kashgar Prefecture police said via an official social media account that local police in Yarkant County, also known as Shache, had destroyed nearly 100,000 matchboxes recalled from shops, markets and hotels.
The same WeChat account said that authorities in Kargilik, or Yecheng County — also in Kashgar — had given residents disposable lighters in exchange for more than 6,000 confiscated matchboxes.
“The confiscation has enabled us to strengthen controls over important elements of public security and thus eliminate potential security threats,” the caption accompanying a photograph of a large pile of matchboxes read.
In Changji City, the local police Web site said officers had destroyed 20,000 boxes “to ensure matches would not be used by terrorist groups and extremist individuals to conduct criminal activities.”
It described the drive as part of attempts to manage dangerous goods that could be used to make explosive products.
It is not clear when the edicts against matches were first issued. While most of the notices date from this week, the Securities Times reported in late May that a routine police check of hotels in Korla found one was providing matchboxes in guestrooms — a common practice in China, where smoking is widespread.
Police confiscated 20 boxes and criticized the hotel’s executives, the paper said, citing a Xinjiang government-owned news portal.
That article said the sale and use of matches had been prohibited “according to relevant regulations,” but did not specify whether the rules were local or applied across the region.
According to the Legal Daily, police in Aksu uncovered a gang plotting a terrorist attack involving explosives at about the same time, after receiving reports from the public that a suspicious man trying to buy matches fled when asked to provide his details.
A notice posted on the Aksu City Government’s site offered awards of between 500 and 500,000 yuan (between US$80.5 and US$81,540) for providing information on what it deemed potential threats to social stability, ranging from unapproved preaching and sharing “reactionary” opinions online to murder and terrorist activities.