By Michael Martina for Reuters
China said on Thursday there was no religious discrimination in the far-western region of Xinjiang and there would be no interference in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, despite criticism from rights groups.
Ramadan, which begins next week, is a sensitive time in Xinjiang, where deadly attacks in recent years blamed by Beijing on Islamist militants have left hundreds dead.
Authorities in Xinjiang in the past have stepped up controls on the practice of Islam followed by the Uighur ethnic minority during Ramadan. There has been criticism of people having been banned from worship and that restaurants had been forced to stay open.
Muslims worldwide observe Ramadan, during which many abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours.
"During the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, whether to close or open halal restaurants is completely determined by the owners themselves without interference," a government report on religious freedom in Xinjiang said.
"No citizen suffers discrimination or unfair treatment for believing in, or not believing in, any religion," the report said, adding that "religious feelings and needs are fully respected".
Those pledges appeared to be at odds with some local policies.
Legal and religious officials in Khorgos city, near the border with Kazakhstan, in late May ordered inspections of more than 30 ethnic restaurant operators and had them "guarantee normal business during Ramadan", a statement on the government's website said.
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