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Paralleling religion and terrorism

HONG KONG (UCAN): The Chinese government has tightened the screws on religious freedom in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region with new regulations providing for parents and guardians to be reported if they force children to take part in religious activities.

The new regulations in the Muslim-majority state were passed by the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regional People’s Congress on September 29 and will come into effect on November 1.

The full text of the juvenile delinquency regulations published by the state-run Xinjiang Daily on October 12 say that neither parents nor guardians should “organise, lure or force minors into attending religious activities.”

The new regulations state that parents should not teach children hardline beliefs, or force them to wear specific clothing or other symbols.

An extremely dangerous regulation, akin to the encouragement to kill people suspected of involvement in drugs by the president of The Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, adds that any organisation or individual has the right to stop this kind of behaviour.

However, they then add the mitigating clause and inform the police.

The new regulations also ban all religious activities in schools and requests that teachers educate and guide students against terrorism, separatism and religious extremism.

Article 25 specifically forbids any organisation or individual to keep children home from high school for religious reasons.

Shih Chien-yu, a professor at the Journalism School of Chu Hai College in Hong Kong, doubts if the regulations contradict the civil law on guardians’ rights, saying the meaning of judgmental words such as organise, lure or force are arguable.

But the new rules come as no surprise to some.

Shih, an expert on Xinjiang, said that the regulations are consistent with Chinese policy. “The Xinjiang authority has emphasised stability after a terrorist attack in Beijing,” Shih said in referring to an incident in Tiananmen Square in 2013 when a vehicle attack killed five people and injured over 40 others.

Three of those among the dead were in the SUV which burst into flames. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement claimed responsibility although its claim was disputed.

Chen Quanguo, the new party secretary of Xinjian, emphasised carry through and stability in a meeting on upholding spirit of the regulations in September.

“(Chen) has decided to comprehensively tighten control on Xinjiang society. It will of course also reflect on religious policy,” Shih said.

The Xinjiang Autonomous Region is in China’s far west and tensions have long simmered between the authorities and indigenous ethnic Uyghur population.

In much the same way as the new charity laws and the registration procedures for non-government organisations seem to relate their activities with criminal behaviour, the new regulations in Xinjiang imply a parallel between religion and terrorism.

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