BEIJING - A county in the Muslim-majority southern part of China's unruly region of Xinjiang has held a beer festival in the run-up to the holy month of Ramadan, the government said, in what an exiled group called an open provocation.
Ramadan is a sensitive time in Xinjiang, in China's far west, after an uptick in attacks over the past three years, in which hundreds have died, blamed by Beijing on Islamist militants.
State media and Xinjiang government websites have published stories and official notices again this year demanding that Communist Party members, civil servants, students and teachers, in particular, do not observe Ramadan and do not fast.
The beer festival happened in a village in Niya County, in the deep south of Xinjiang, which is overwhelmingly populated by the Muslim Uighur people. Muslims are not allowed to consume alcohol, according to the Quran.
The Niya government website said the "beer competition", which happened last week just before the start of Ramadan, was attended by more than 60 young farmers and herders.
It showed pictures of women dancing in front of a stage and a line of men downing as much beer as they could in one minute.
"This beer competition was varied and entertaining," the government said, noting that there were cash awards of up to 1,000 yuan (S$217) for competition winners.
Mr Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled group the World Uighur Congress, condemned the event.
"This is an open provocation to the Islamic faith," he said in a statement through e-mail. Reuters was unable to reach the Niya government for comment.
China says it protects freedom of religion, but it maintains a tight grip on religious activities and allows only officially recognised institutions to operate.
China has about 20 million Muslims throughout the country, only a portion of which are Uighur.