SHAFAQNA -Â Ringing alarm bells over one of the biggest threats to Chinese Muslims, a former Chinese health official warned of a dramatic increase of the HIV/AIDS epidemic among Uighurs in the far-western region of Xinjiang.
â€œNow HIV/AIDS is a most dangerous disease in the Uyghur autonomous region, especially among local Uighurs,â€ Feruk Pidakar [not his real name], a former senior government official at the Office for AIDS Control and Prevention under the Health Department of the Xinjiang, told Radio Free Asia.
â€œItâ€™s a more dangerous and harmful social phenomenon than the â€˜unstable elementsâ€™ which are caused by so-called â€˜terrorismâ€™ and â€˜religious extremism,â€™ according to the Chinese propaganda.â€
Pidakar said that the increase of HIV among young Uighur men in the southern part of the Xinjiang region is due to the influx of infected prostitutes who have been transmitting the deadly disease since 2009.
He added that many Han Chinese people had moved to the area, with the governmentâ€™s support, and hundreds of brothels had opened up â€œunder the guise of beauty salons, massage parlors or bathrooms.â€
â€œHundreds of prostitution houses opened under the guise of beauty salons, massage parlors or bathrooms in Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu), Kucha (Kuqa), Kashgar (Kashi), Yarkant (Shache) and Hotan (Hetian),â€ the former Chinese official said.
â€œAIDS/HIV-infected Han sex workers from Chinaâ€™s inner provinces sell [their services] in predominantly Han red-light districts in southern Xinjiang.â€
He went on saying: â€œWhen we were in the south, some of the Uyghur parents and farmers complained to us that there were black-windowed minibuses loaded with Han sex workers that provided cheep sex to the young Uyghur farmers.â€
According to UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, some 34 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2011.
Deaths from AIDS fell to 1.7 million in 2011, down from a peak of 2.3 million in 2005 and from 1.8 million in 2010.
Worldwide, the number of people newly infected with HIV, which can be transmitted via blood and by semen during sex, is also falling. At 2.5 million, the number of new infections in 2011 was 20 percent lower than in 2001.
Figures issued by the regional Heath and Family Planning Committee in 2014 showed that 5,200 people in Xinjiang had contacted HIV/AIDS and 8,400 died from the disease.
Across the northwest region, 80 percent of AIDs victims are Uighurs, Pidakar said.
Governmentâ€™sÂ failure to contain the situation and organize prevention measures are listed as being among the factors contributing to the spread of disease in the region.
â€œThe authorities have left behind the rapidly increasing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the region and instead focused on so-called â€˜terrorism and religious extremism,â€™â€ Memetjan Sadir, a Uyghur sociologist who was an associate professor at a university in Urumqi before immigrating to the United States earlier this year, said.
Other factors like the lack of education and the absence of public awareness of the disease have contributed to the spread of HIV.
â€œToday people refer to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the region as â€˜a Uyghur diseaseâ€™,â€ Pidakar said.
â€œTo a large extent, the local authorities are focusing their main work on maintaining â€˜stabilityâ€™ and fighting the â€˜war on terror,â€™ and refuse to do any kind of HIV/AIDS education or prevention work.â€
While the authorities have restricted fasting, beard and hijab in the Muslim-majority region, it condoned the spread of the deadly disease and failed to ban illegal sex businesses, Muslims complained.
â€œEducated Uighur citizens and government employees know that the immigrant Han sex workers are infected with the HIV/AIDS virus, but nobody dares to complain about them,â€Â Sadir said.
â€œIf they speak openly, they know very well that they will be accused of the crime of ethnic separatism or religious extremism.â€
Last Ramadan, some parts of the far western Xinjiang district banned Muslim party members, civil servants, students and teachers from fasting during the holy month.
Earlier in December,Â China banned the wearing of Islamic veiled robes in public in Urumqi, the capital of the province of Xinjiang.
The law in the predominantly Muslim region came as Beijing intensified its so-called campaign against â€œreligious extremismâ€ that it blames for recent violence.
Earlier in 2014, Xinjiang banned the practicing of religion in government buildings, as well as wearing clothes or logos associated with religious extremism.
Last May, Muslim shops and restaurants in a Chinese village in northwestern Xinjiang were ordered toÂ sell cigarettes and alcohol or face closure.