Uighur men wait for the beginning of Friday prayers inside Altyn Mosque in Yarkand, in the region of XinjiangReuters

The Chinese government has banned Muslims in the Xinjiang region from celebrating Ramadan, the month of fasting.

Dilxadi Rexiti, a spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress (WUC), which promotes democracy, human rights and freedom for the Uyghur people, said authorities encouraged Uyghur to eat free meals, and inspected homes to check whether families were observing the fast.

According to the South China Morning Post, the commercial affairs bureau of Turfan city said on its website that "civil servants and students cannot take part in fasting and other religious activities".

The state-run Bozhou Radio and TV University warned the ban would also be enforced "on party members, teachers, and young people from taking part in Ramadan activities.

"We remind everyone that they are not permitted to observe a Ramadan fast," it added.

Xinjiang, also as known as East Turkestan, is an autonomous region in North-Western China, which is inhabited by the Uyghur, a Muslim minority who demand total independence from Beijing. There are about 10.2 million Uyghurs in Xinjiang, according to a China's 2000 census ( the latest available).

"China taking these kind of coercive measures, restricting the faith of Uyghur, will create more conflict," said Mr Rexiti. "We call on China to ensure religious freedom for Uyghur and stop political repression of Ramadan."

Uyghur have often been subjected to religious discrimination by the Chinese government.

China accuses Uyghur militants of waging a violent campaign for an independent state; however, Beijing is often accused of exaggerating Uyghur's extremism to justify its religious crackdown on the Muslim minority.

Violent clashes between Uyghurs and Chinese people often occur. In July 2009 violent conflicts between the Han Chinese and the Uyghur erupted, killing nearly 200 people in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi.