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Xinjiang decrees legal dressing down

BEIJING (UCAN): China has finalised a spurious law which now criminalises some types of clothing which Beijing associates with religious extremism.

New amendments to a previous law now further narrow the government definition of terrorism in a bid to tackle what it calls Muslim separatist violence in Xinjiang province.

Amendments to the Criminal Law announced by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the Supreme People’s Court on November 1, include preparing an attack, inciting terrorism, using extremism to break the law, carrying goods for terrorism purposes and wearing clothing or logos linked to religious extremism.

“Anyone who violently forces others to wear such garments will be put under surveillance, detained or face a maximum of three years in prison,” the state-run Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid printed in both Chinese and English, proclaimed.

While the court did not define what constitutes extremist garments or symbols, in a brief joint statement, state media said the amendments were designed to target extremism in Xinjiang, home to more than 12 million minority Muslim Uyghurs.

Under the current president, Xi Jinping, China has tightened restrictions against religious groups deemed to be a threat to China’s sovereignty, national security or Communist Party power.

Authorities in Zhejiang province have removed at least 1,500 crosses from Church buildings since the end of 2013.

Xinjiang provincial government issued a ban on burqas in January and has been urging residents to report incidents of women wearing burqas and young men with large beards to the authorities.

T-shirts and flags featuring the Islamic crescent—the symbol of the pro-independence East Turkestan flag—are also banned and on the list of reportable sightings.

China’s heavily shackled state media has quoted a number of experts on religion and security as praising the new legislation. They say it is a means of tackling separatist violence that reportedly left at least 500 dead across China last year.

“The key to fighting terrorist attacks is to root the extremists out, so I’m glad to see the revised criminal law has highlighted this. The law also provides us with the legal basis to fight extremism and I believe it will be more effective,” Ma Pinyan, a researcher at the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, was quoted as saying by state news agency, Xinhua.

A separate announcement from Xinhua on November 2 says that the former editor of the Xinjiang Daily, Zhao Xinwei, was fired and expelled from the Communist Party for improperly discussing government policy on Xinjiang.

It was unclear whether the charges against Zhao relate specifically to the new legal amendments or not.

China’s social media has included freer discussion on the new measures. Still, most users reposted news of the amendments from official sources or appeared to agree they are necessary in the name of national stability.

“Such deliberately vague wording leaves judicial practice inoperable,” one user on micro-blogging site Weibo, said in a rare criticism.

Defending stricter rules on what it describes as Islamic dress, the government and state media have likened China’s new rules to burqa bans in European countries, including France.

Officials have also stated that burqas were never traditionally worn in Xinjiang, warning that their recent popularity stems from opposition to Communist Party rule.

Timothy Grose, an assistant professor of China studies at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, said this claim was partly correct, although travellers to Xinjiang in the late 1800s reported women wearing a netted veil, a tor romal, which is still worn today.

“To be sure, veiling may sometimes be a political or religious act, but the decision to cover is mediated in complex ways by shifting community standards, global fashion trends and consumption practices,” he said.


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