China has ordered all residents in its Muslim-majority Xinjiang province to surrender their passports in a bid to "maintain social order" and prevent them from moving abroad, days after the Communist nation tightened rules to suppress religious freedom in the restive region.
The northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has tightened passport regulations, requiring all residents to hand in their passports to local police for examination and management, state-run Global Times reported on Thursday.
All citizens in Aksu prefecture are required to hand their passports - private or official - to local police stations, the daily reported quoting an anonymous police officer.
"Anyone who needs the passport must apply to the police station," the official said, adding that the new passport management policy is implemented throughout Xinjiang.
The Public Security Bureau in Shihezi city gave the same directive last month saying it was for "annual examination" purposes. "Those who refuse to hand in their passports should bear the responsibility themselves if they are forbidden from going abroad," the directive said.
A resident from Kashar city, bordering Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), told the daily she received a call asking her to hand over her passport to police. She said her husband's passport application was denied by the police a few days ago.
A local official told the daily that Xinjiang government had loosened control over residents' passports in 2015. The new policy is aimed at maintaining social order, he said.
The latest directive follows an order reported yesterday, requiring all residents to report to authorities all religious activities, including circumcision, weddings and funerals.
Getting a passport is often complicated and takes more time in Xinjiang than in other provinces, given the increased threat of terrorism in the region and the government's ongoing anti-terrorism campaign, an official in the province said.
The passport policy also comes amid steady migration of Uyghurs, Turkik-speaking Muslims to Turkey and other nations.
According to reports, hundreds of Uyghur youths have been fighting along with the Islamic State group in Syria, and China believes that the battle-hardened militants may return to cause more violence in the troubled province.
The resource-rich Xinjiang, bordering PoK and Afghanistan, has been on the boil for more than six years as the local Uyghur Muslims are upset over over the increasing settlement of Han Chinese from other provinces.
The province has witnessed some of the most deadly terrorist attacks, officially blamed on East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which was previously linked to the al-Qaeda but now has declared its allegiance to Islamic State.
ETIM was blamed for a suicide attack on the Chinese Embassy in Kyrgyzstan in September.