China offers rewards for tip-offs on terrorism and long beards in troubled Xinjiang

BEIJING (Reuters) - The authorities in China are offering cash rewards for everything from "violent terrorism training" to growing long beards, the latest security regulations in the Xinjiang region that critics say target Muslims.

The rewards are part of a social stability campaign in a region beset by violence that the government blames on Islamist militants and separatists who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan in the far western region.

Uighurs are Turkic-language speaking Muslims. Many of them chafe at Chinese controls on their culture and religion. Unrest in Xinjiang has killed more than 100 people in the past year.

Uighur exiles and many rights groups trace the cause of unrest to government policies, including curbs on Islam and the Uighur people's culture and language. The government denies those accusations.

Members of the public can earn rewards by reporting on a range of more than 50 activities, according to a notice published on a government website for Shaya county in mid-April and carried in state media this week.

Verified information regarding violations such as "violent terrorism training activities" and behaviour with "separatist aims" can earn an informant up to 50,000 yuan (S$10,000).

Information on individuals "growing long beards" and"wearing bizarre clothing" can yield rewards from 50 yuan to 500 yuan, the county government said. "Timely reporting of social stability information can actively prevent and precisely strike at all kinds of illegal offences," it said in the notice.

Uighurs have traditionally followed a moderate form of Islam but many have begun adopting practices more commonly seen in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, such as full-face veils for women, as China has intensified a security crackdown in recent years.

Providing information about people who "say things that are not good for ethnic unity" and who "twist facts" about a deadly July 2009 riot in the regional capital Urumqi are also worth up to 500 yuan, the county government said.

Nearly 200 people were killed in the Urumqi riot when Uighurs clashed with members of the majority ethnic Han Chinese community.

It is not the first time the authorities have targeted beards and clothing such as burqas and veils. "Restricting traditional culture, faith and lifestyles, proves the utter failure of China's local governance," Mr Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the main Uighur exile group, the World Uyghur Congress, said in a e-mailed statement this week.