BEIJING • Residents of a border district in China's mostly Muslim region of Xinjiang must now provide DNA samples when applying for passports, according to official local media.
As of June 1, residents of the Yili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in China's far north-west must give police DNA samples, fingerprints, voiceprints and a "three-dimensional image" in order to apply for certain travel documents, the official Yili Daily reported, citing the local public security bureau.
Many members of the mostly Muslim Uighur community in Xinjiang complain of discrimination - including rejection of passport applications - as well as controls on their culture and religion.
The new policy - which came into effect just before the month of Ramadan, which started on Monday - concerns applications for new passports and renewals, entry permits to Taiwan, and two-way permits to Hong Kong and Macau, the newspaper said. Those who fail to fulfil requirements will be refused documents, it added.
Yili prefecture borders Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan. It is part of Xinjiang, home of the more than 10 million-strong Uighur minority.
Hundreds of people have been killed in unrest in Xinjiang in the past few years. The government blames the violence on militants who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan for the Uighurs, a mostly Muslim people who speak a Turkic language.
Exiles and rights groups say the unrest is more a reaction to repressive government restrictions on religion and culture, rather than being organised by any cohesive group. China tightly controls religious groups despite proclaiming that its citizens have freedom of belief.
Officials have restricted civil servants, students and children in the mainly Muslim region from fasting during Ramadan.
Muslims worldwide observe Ramadan, during which many abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours.
Several local government departments in Xinjiang have posted notices on their websites in the last week ordering restrictions on fasting.
"Party members, cadres, civil servants, students and minors must not fast for Ramadan and must not take part in religious activities," said a notice posted last Thursday on the official website of the city of Korla in central Xinjiang.
"During the Ramadan month, food and drink businesses must not close," it added.
The United States has long criticised the Chinese restrictions on religious expression in Xinjiang, such as banning veils for women.
"Many government policies may have exacerbated ethnic tension in Xinjiang and could contribute to increased violent extremism," it said.
But China strongly denies abusing anybody's rights in Xinjiang.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS