China’s first anti-extremism law comes into effect on Saturday, enforcing bans on full-face veils and long beards in the restive far-western region of Xinjiang.
Such bans had previously only been applied ad hoc. The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region sits along the ancient Silk Road and is home to around 10 million Muslim Uighurs, who have faced increasing restrictions after ethnic violence erupted in 2009.
The law bans 15 behaviours which are labelled extremist activities, including refusing to watch Chinese state television and radio news broadcasts.
“Expanding the concept of halal beyond food items”, “abnormal” beards and names, “wearing veils and robes [and] symbols of extremism”, marrying or divorcing through religious means instead of Chinese law, not allowing children to attend government schools and deliberately breaking the family planning policy are also banned.
The publication, sale, production, downloading or reading of extremist content is also banned under the new law, adopted on Wednesday by the Xinjiang People’s Congress.
La Trobe University’s associate professor of politics and Asian studies, James Leibold, said codifying the bans in law will make a difference to the everyday lives of Uighurs across Xinjiang.
Since 2009, bans on veils and long beards had been enforced by some towns at a local level.
“They are trying to standardise clearly what acts define extremism. There has been concern [within the party] that there has been patchwork enforcement and policing of extremism,” he said.
“In southern Xinjiang, some towns are under the control of Uighur party members. It is now tied to promotion applications. The government will set up inspection teams to ensure it is carried out.”
For Muslim women, in particular, the veil ban will “intensify their sense of cultural insecurity”, he said.
“These bans will increase misunderstanding and lack of trust, which makes it harder to create social cohesion,” he added.
The new law further ramps up the party’s control over the region as the Xinjiang party chief, Chen Quanguo, is hotly tipped to join the nation’s ruling elite and be promoted to a position within the Politburo in November at the Communist Party’s National Congress, held every five years.
Photographs of a massive military parade in Xinjiang were circulated last month, interpreted as a show of strength in China’s fight against terrorism.
There have been a series of violent attacks in Xinjiang blamed on Muslim separatists, and several attacks in major Chinese cities, including a 2014 knife attack at Kunming railway station.
China Daily reported the anti-extremism law on its front page, quoting Nayim Yassen, the director of the Standing Committee of Xinjiang’s parliament, as saying: “In Xinjiang, the root of terrorist activities is separatism.”
Chen Tong, director of the Xinjiang parliament’s legislative affairs commission, said cautions would be issued for a first offence.
Eleven people have been arrested in the first three months of 2017 for spreading extremism online in Xinjiang.
According to a statement posted by the Xinjiang public security bureau to its social media account, their crimes ranged from spreading information about terrorism to rumours and defamatory statements.
Four of the 11 cases involved alleged pro-terrorist content, two involved religious extremism, two were accused of spreading “fake” reports on terrorism, while another had criticised or insulted the government’s “stabilisation” measures.
By Kirsty Needham
Sydney Morning Herald