China bans Islamic baby names in Muslim majority Xinjiang province

List comes after new rules prohibit 'abnormal beards' and wearing the burqa in public

Lizzie Dearden
Tuesday 25 April 2017 09:48 BST
A Uighur woman walks with her baby at a market on August 1, 2014 in old Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, China.
A Uighur woman walks with her baby at a market on August 1, 2014 in old Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, China. (Getty)

Chinese authorities have banned Islamic baby names in the country’s largest Muslim province, as part of a crackdown on alleged “extremism” that monitors say restricts fundamental rights.

A document entitled “Naming Rules for Ethnic Minorities” prohibits names used by Muslim parents around the world including Imam, Hajj, Islam, Quran, Saddam, Medina and Islam, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

It applies to the Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang, where the Communist Party has been imposing ever tighter restrictions on religion in what it claims is a battle against “extremism”, amid a separatist uprising by Uyghur rebels.

Any babies with “overly religious” names will be barred from the hukou household registration system governing access to healthcare and education, a police official in the regional capital of Urumqi told RFA, which was founded by the US government and advances its foreign policy.

“You’re not allowed to give names with a strong religious flavour, such as Jihad or names like that,” he added.

“The most important thing here is the connotations of the name... [It mustn’t have] connotations of holy war or of separatism.”

Chinese military police attending an anti-terrorist oath-taking rally in Hetian, northwest China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
Chinese military police attending an anti-terrorist oath-taking rally in Hetian, northwest China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (Getty)

Muslims from the Uyghur ethnic group, which is the majority in Xinjiang, are being urged to “stick to the party line” and avoid anything seen as “promoting terror and evil cults”.

A list of banned names was previously detailed in Hotan prefecture in 2015 but has now reportedly been rolled out throughout Xinjiang, which is home to an estimated 10 million Muslims.

Human Rights Watch said the latest “absurd” prohibition was part of a slew of new regulations “restricting religious freedom in the name of countering ‘extremism’”.

“These policies are blatant violations of domestic and international protections on the rights to freedom of belief and expression,” said Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch’s director for China.

“Violent incidents and ethnic tensions in Xinjiang have been on the rise in recent years, but the government’s farcically repressive policies and punishments are hardly solutions.

“Instead, they are only going to deepen resentment among Uyghurs.”

The reported list of names emerged less than a month after authorities in Xinjiang imposed new rules prohibiting the wearing of “abnormal” beards or burqas in public places, and imposing punishments for refusing to watch state television or radio programmes.

It included a ban on “naming of children to exaggerate religious fervour”, but did not immediately give specifics.

Rules published in state-controlled media continued: “Parents should use good moral conduct to influence their children, educate them to revere science, pursue culture, uphold ethnic unity and refuse and oppose extremism.”

Punishments also appear to be increasing for officials deemed to be too lenient over the growing restrictions.

In January, a government employee who criticised policies in messages to his wife received a “serious warning” and in March, a Uyghur official was reportedly removed from her job for holding her wedding ceremony at home instead of at a government-approved venue.

Human Rights Watch said a further 97 officials in Hotan prefecture were reprimanded earlier this month, including one who was demoted for “not daring” to smoke in front of religious figures and showing an inadequately “resolute political stance”.

Successive bans on select ”extremist behaviours“ have previously been introduced in in areas of Xinjiang, including stopping people with headscarves, veils and long beards from boarding buses in at least one city.

Hundreds of people have died in the ongoing conflict between separatists and the Chinese government in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which sits on China’s far north-western border.

Beijing has blamed the unrest on Islamist militants, though rights groups say the violence is a reaction to repressive Chinese policies and rebels claim the region has been illegally occupied since 1949.

Peaceful protests have taken place alongside bombings and other violent attacks on Chinese security forces and institutions.

The government strongly denies committing any abuses in Xinjiang and insists the legal, cultural and religious rights of Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group, are fully protected.

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