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New law to combat religious extremism

HONG KONG (UCAN): The Minority Muslim Uyghur people in Xinjiang province of China fear further erosion of their freedom to practice their faith after authorities announced plans for a new law to combat religious extremism.

The planned legislation coincides with the implementation of a new anti-terrorism law passed in December last year and the extension of what has been termed a strike-hard campaign in Xinjiang, which saw extra troops and police being deployed amid a surge in violence that began in early 2014.

“Worship has become more restricted for some time now, but these new laws can only make things worse,” a Uyghur Muslim in the eastern city of Turpan commented.

Minors are already banned from entering mosques in Xinjiang, home to an estimated 12 million Uyghur people, and last year authorities passed a new law banning burqas and other Islamic dress that covers the face in the region.

Although details of the new religious extremism law have not yet been made public, a legislator in Xinjiang, Nayim Yassen, told Chinese state media in mid-January that the drafting process had made significant progress.

“It will most likely further outlaw traditional Uyghur religious beliefs and practices, and attempt to dilute their religious faith and secularise the new generation of Uyghurs,” Alim Seytoff, the director of the Washington DC-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, said.

Kayum Masimov, the president of the Uyghur Canadian Society, said that the new law was expected to be a farce designed to legally justify the escalating repressive activity against Muslim worship in Xinjiang in a bid to appease foreign spectators.

The day after state media reported plans to draft a new extremism law, the local government in Xinjiang announced new ethnic solidarity rules to tackle discrimination against the minority Muslim Uyghurs by the majority Han Chinese.

“Region, nationality, religious beliefs or folk customs shall not be used as reasons to discriminate, or refuse to provide service, in these venues,” the official state news agency, Xinhua, reported on January 15.

Xinjiang has witnessed what are among the most stringent rules on religious practice in China during a period in which over 1,500 crosses have been removed from churches in Zhejiang province, and Buddhist monks and nuns have complained of worsening state interference in Tibet.

Public notices in cities and towns in the region warn that inciting children to participate in any religious activity could incur a prison term of three to seven years. Simply having a private meal or gathering with an imam outside of a government-registered mosque can lead to prison time.

In a New Year’s message carried by the state-run Xinjiang Daily, the Communist Party boss of the region, Zhang Chunxian, said religious extremism weakened markedly during last year, as the number of attacks fell compared with 2014.

But in a warning printed in the nationalistic Global Times on January 18, a Chinese scholar said Communist Party red tape hindering new churches, temples and mosques is fuelling religious extremism.

“Legal religious sites are scarce in China, which may cause some people to resort to extremist religious groups, as people must also fulfill their religious needs, which are similar to physiological needs like nutrition,” Wei Dedong, the vice-director of the School of Philosophy at Renmin University in Beijing, commented.


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