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(Forum 18) – While the imams of the ethnic Uighur and Dungan mosques and the only monk at the Buddhist temple in Ghulja (Yining in Chinese), the capital of the Ili-Kazakh autonomous prefecture of China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, declined to talk to Forum 18 News Service without permission from the National Religious Committee, the state body that controls religious communities, the Catholic priest was open about restrictions. “We are citizens and taxpayers just as much as the atheists, but in the eyes of the state we are second-class people,” Fr Sun Zin Shin complained. He said bosses threaten to sack parishioners who work in state enterprises if they do not stop attending church, while the authorities are particularly vigilant in checking that minors do not attend Catholic churches. He said one schoolboy who managed to get into last December’s Christmas service in Nilka despite a police checkpoint to prevent this was subsequently beaten for doing so by his teacher. Nor are services permitted away from the four local registered Catholic parishes. But local ethnic Russian politician Nikolai Lunev defended the restrictions as being enshrined in law.