Beards, veils banned in Muslim Xinjiang, Muslim students returning from abroad arrested

23rd Jun 2017

Meng Yihua

The last few months have seen further increases in oppressive policies in China’s Muslim Xinjiang province. In the new legislation, effective April 1, China introduced restrictions on “abnormal” beards and wearing veils in public for the Muslim residents of Xinjiang, a supposedly autonomous region in Northwest China.

In the same document, children names that “exaggerated religious fervour” were also banned, as was marrying using only religious procedures. Certain cities within Xinjiang had already banned wearing veils and growing beards, but the new legislation appeared to standardise the regulations across the region. In addition, new regulations stipulate that all Uyghur students studying abroad must return home, where upon arrival, they faced arrest without trial.

The document failed to provide any justification for the prohibitions, and also lacked a definition of the term “abnormal”, but the China Daily later stated that the banning of long beards was because they are “deemed to promote extremism”.

Earlier this year, the compulsory installation of satellite-tracking devices was ordered on all drivers in Xinjiang, as cars are seen as a “frequently chosen vehicle to conduct terrorist attacks”. Prior to that, Uyghur residents were forced to surrender their passports and travel documents to local police stations, having to submit applications if they wished to utilise them for travel purposes.

Human rights groups maintain that the policies constitute a gross violation of human rights, including freedom of movement, and freedom of expression, but the Chinese Government insists that the legal as well as religious rights of the Uyghurs are fully protected, and denies any rights’ abuse.

The new April legislation failed to clarify how the regulations would be enforced, but in the last week of April, the authorities published a separate document entitled ‘Naming Rules for Ethnic Minorities’, which included a list of banned ‘Islamic’ baby names. Any babies with such “overly religious” names as those that appear in the list will have no access to Government healthcare or education.

Human Rights Watch said the new stream of regulations were restricting freedoms “in the name of countering ‘extremism’”, and described the latest prohibition on baby names as “absurd”.

James Leibold, a researcher on China’s Uyghurs from Australia’s Le Trobe University, says that to deny China has a terrorist problem would be ’foolish’, but that the threat of ’radical Islam’ has been exaggerated by the Communist Party. Rights groups around the world are unanimous in their agreement that the Government’s overly repressive policies do nothing in the way of solving the ethnic tensions and violence that they admit is evident in Xinjiang.

Reports emerged this month of further shocking demands on Uyghurs; new regulations stipulated that all Uyghur students studying abroad must return home, where upon arrival, they faced arrest without trial. Uyghur students in Egypt, Japan and Turkey seem to have been worst affected, with an estimated 3,000 students from universities in Egypt being arrested by authorities upon arrival at the airport in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital city. Students that refuse to return are threatened with the imprisonment of their parents and families. Sources obtained from some students indicate that they were ordered to return by May 1.

Treating all Uyghurs as convicted criminals will indeed be difficult for China to justify in the face of growing allegations of human rights’ abuses by international organisations. Meanwhile, the authorities can only expect tensions to rise further.

The Uyghurs are a group of ethnically-Central Asian Muslims who were the predominant group in China’s northwest Xinjiang province. In recent decades, the Uyghur’s majority has been diluted by the Chinese Government’s large-scale resettlement of Han Chinese into the region. Xinjiang, a key region rich in resources, coupled with her majority Muslim population was a concern for the Government, leading to the implementation of a series of discriminatory policies to repress the religious and cultural freedoms of the Uyghurs, in turn causing many to respond with violence.

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