China bans burqas and 'abnormal' beards in Muslim province of Xinjiang

Government claims it is cracking down on 'extremism' but human rights groups say religious freedom under attack

Lizzie Dearden
Thursday 30 March 2017 12:17 BST
Xinjiang is home to China's largest Muslim population because of the high proportion of ethnic Uyghurs
Xinjiang is home to China's largest Muslim population because of the high proportion of ethnic Uyghurs (Getty)

China has banned burqas, veils and “abnormal” beards in a predominantly Muslim province in what it claims is a crackdown on religious extremism.

The measures, which also force people to watch state television, follow decades of ethnic and religious discrimination against Xinjiang’s 10 million-strong ethic Uyghur population.

New regulations, to come into force on Saturday, require government workers in airports, railway stations and other public places “dissuade” women who fully cover their faces and bodies from entering and report them to police.

They also prohibit the “abnormal growing of beards and naming of children to exaggerate religious fervour”, without giving specifics.

It will be forbidden to “reject or refuse radio, television and other public facilities and services”, marrying using religious rather than legal procedures and “using the name of Halal to meddle in the secular life of others”.

Rules published in state-controlled media continue: “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.”

The document also bans not allowing children to attend regular school, not abiding by family planning policies and deliberately damaging legal documents.

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.

The 15 new rules expand an existing list and apply them to the whole province in what the Chinese government claims is a campaign against religious extremism.

Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan and Muslim-majority nations including Kazakhstan, is home to the greatest concentration of Muslims in China because of its significant ethnic Uyghur population.

But restrictions are enforced on the practice of Islam, as well as China’s four other officially recognised religions, and the new rules threaten further punishment.

Hundreds of people have died in the ongoing conflict between separatists and the Chinese government in the 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 separatists 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.

A rise in violence has triggered a large increase in security, with President Xi Jinping calling for a "great wall of iron" to safeguard the region during the annual meeting of China's parliament earlier this month.

Deadly attack on market stalls in China s Xinjiang region

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

China officially guarantees freedom of religion but authorities have issued a series of measures in recent years to tackle what it sees as a rise in “extremism”, while expanding its military presence in the region.

The popularity of Islamic veils including the niqab and burqa, which cover the face, has been rising among Uyghurs in recent years, in what experts say is an expression of opposition to Chinese controls.

Human Rights Watch’s 2017 world report accused Beijing of increasing “restrictions on fundamental human rights and pervasive ethnic and religious discrimination”, noting that details of “counter-terror” operations are scarce.

Travel restrictions increased when passports were recalled last year, with authorities requiring applicants to provide a DNA sample, fingerprints, a voice recording, and a “three-dimensional image”.

Local authorities have previously banned Muslim civil servants, students, and teachers from fasting and instructed restaurants to stay open during the holy month of Ramadan.

Amnesty International said the move, as well as a crackdown on “unauthorised” Muslim prayer gatherings, constituted violations of freedom of religion.

Dozens of students and writers have been arrested under a “counter-terror law” brought in last year and critics of government policy have been jailed.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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