By Liang Chen
The Uyghur Online, a website hosted on overseas servers which is believed to be engaged in separatist activities, reported that the Xinjiang government dispatched the firefighters to mosques claiming they were there to train local imams on fire control knowledge, but in reality were using them to monitor religious activities being conducted within the mosques from July 20.
According to the report, an anonymous citizen in Changji told the Uyghur Online that this meant the government intended to send military staff to monitor these religious activities, as firefighters are considered “armed police” in China and thus are soldiers.
Liang Si, a publicity official from the firefighting department in Yili, said that training sessions at the mosques had no political motive and were just necessary precautionary measures during Ramadan, as the influx of worshippers might increase fire hazards.
“We’re carrying out routine fire safety activities and fire safety checks, and we do it every year,” Liang told the Global Times.
Aside from dispatching firefighters to mosques, “we also send them to residential neighborhoods, schools and government departments to teach and train them in fire control knowledge, to eliminate fire hazards,” Liang said.
Firefighters left the mosques soon after they completed the training sessions, which took less than an hour, Liang said.
In a video report by the China News Service, several officers from the fire department of Changji were seen in the courtyard area of a mosque showing Uyghur people how to use fire extinguishers.
The local government has strengthened supervision over fire prevention, as the number of fire disasters have increased in recent years.
Statistics showed that in 2010, a total of 5,106 fire disasters occurred in Xinjiang, which killed 59 and injured 39, while causing losses of 29 million yuan, a 34 percent increase from the previous year.
“It is routine work that I don’t think will bring any interruption to our religious activities,” Zubaida Abdurishid, a Uyghur college teacher in Urumqi, told the Global Times.
Firefighters also went to schools to check fire control equipment and teach students how to prevent fires, she said.
The Uyghur Online’s accusation followed recent US government criticism, which said that the Chinese government “characterized Uyghur discontent, peaceful political activism, and some forms of religious observance as terrorist activity.”
Li Hua, a publicity official in the Xinjiang government, said the Uyghur Online has sensationalized the fire department’s routine inspections and training.
“We respect and protect legal religious activities in accordance with Chinese laws,” Li told the Global Times.
Xiong Kunxin, a professor of ethnic theory and policy at the Minzu University of China, told the Global Times that there were hidden agendas behind the report.
“Foreign forces are hyping the issue to intentionally cause rifts in China’s domestic ethnic relations,” Xiong said.