An ethnic Uighur man sits outside his house near a busy market in Turpan, Xinjiang province.
An ethnic Uighur man sits outside his house near a busy market in Turpan, Xinjiang province Reuters

Officials in China's restive Xinjiang province have introduced financial rewards for informants who alert authorities to sightings of men with large beards or women wearing veils, in an effort to clamp down on separatism.

"Project Beauty" will give out cash payments of up to £4,750 to informants who report on citizens with substantial facial hair, wear "weird clothes" or carry banknotes etched with religious slogans.

"The notice on the website is a more detailed regulation based on a previous notice from public security authorities," an official from the local commission of legal and political affairs told China's English language newspaper Global Times.

Uighur separatist fears

China's largest ethnic minority, the Muslim Turkic-speaking Uighurs, frequently clash with the Han Chinese majority in Xinjiang province, China's most westerly region.

Fears are mounting within the ruling Communist party that a Uighur-led separatist movement is gaining traction and receiving support from foreign Islamic terrorist groups.

Residents of some Xinjiang cities are now being barred from entering official buildings and banks unless they are clean-shaven or without veils.

People have also been encouraged to report "illegal religious activities" and alert authorities to people "instigating or indulging" young people to take part in religious activities, such as fasting or studying religious scriptures, according to a notice posted on the county government's website earlier this month.

The rewards have been designed to be highly attractive in a region with low economic growth and average incomes.

Civil unrest

In October 2013, Uighurs deliberately drove a car into crowds in Tiananmen Square, killing five people and injuring dozens of others. State media drew attention to "flags and literature" reported to be associated with groups calling for regional independence.

Beijing police said the attack was "carefully planned, organised and premeditated". Officials also said they found knives, steel sticks and a flag with "extremist religious content" in the car.

In March, five assailants went on a hacking and slashing rampage at a train station in Kunming, the capital of southern China's Yunnan province, leaving 30 people dead and more than 140 injured.

Xinjiang has had an intermittent history of autonomy and occasional independence, but was finally brought under Chinese control in the 18<sup>th century.

Due to large-scale immigration to the region by Han Chinese, the Uighurs claimed that they are being discriminated and marginalised against, and civil rights groups have accused Beijing of exaggerating the threat posed by Uighurs in order to justify their heavy-handed treatment.