Outside a mosque in China’s restive west, a government-appointed Muslim cleric was dodging a foreign reporter’s question about why young men of the Uighur ethnic minority don’t have beards when one such youth interrupted.

“Why don’t you just tell them the truth?” he shouted to the cleric under the nervous gaze of several police officers who had been tailing the reporters all day in the oasis city of Aksu. “It’s because the government doesn’t allow beards.”

A plainclothes Uighur policeman swiftly rebuked the young man. “Be careful what you say,” he warned.

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