China punishes official for not daring to smoke near Muslims

BEIJING: A local government in China's restive Xinjiang region has punished an official for not smoking in front of Muslim elders, seeing that as a sign he was insufficiently committed to the region's fight against religious extremism.

The state-run Global Times newspaper reported Tuesday that Jelil Matniyaz, Communist Party head of a village in Hotan, was demoted for "not daring" to smoke in front of the religious figures.

The newspaper quoted other local officials as saying that government leaders should push back against rather than comply with religious prohibitions against smoking to demonstrate their "commitment to secularization."

Hotan is a heavily Muslim part of southern Xinjiang that has seen an uptick in violence in recent years that China blames on Islamic separatists. The government has responded with restrictions on religious expression.