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Crackdown on religious customs in Xinjiang

BEIJING (AsiaNews): Beards of some crafted designs, headscarves, religious rather than secular weddings and funerals and many other things considered by Beijing to be manifestations of religious extremism are now prohibited in Xinjiang province.

A law passed on March 28 in the western region, where a little less than half the population is of Turkic and Muslim origin has become a part of a campaign that has been in place for years to stop what the Chinese government considers terrorist and separatist threats.

The campaign is growing in intensity, with a rise in violence since the hardline Chen Quanguo became party secretary in Xinjiang in place of the more moderate Zhang Chunxian at the behest of the president, Xi Jinping, in the summer of 2016.

Under the new law it will be illegal to refuse to watch state television or listen to state radio, as well as to withhold your children from receiving a national public education.

The new law lists at least 15 common things of daily life that are considered to be signs of extremism. Listed among them are having a religious wedding or divorce, rather than using what is called the legal procedure; meddling in how other people celebrate weddings, funerals, execute wills and divide inheritance; damage of population control programmes; damage to identity cards or banknotes; applying the concept of halal (purity) in fields not related to food and interfering in the secular lives of others.

This law is an attempt to legalise directives that have long been in place in the region, such as the prohibition on people under the age of 18 attending a mosque; a requirement for students to break the Ramadan fast; and control over sermons delivered in mosques.

Xinjiang has about 22 million inhabitants, of which nearly 10 million are of Uyghur ethnicity and of Muslim faith.

In a response to past separatism moves, China has implemented a massive Han colonisation programme and strengthened the military which has occupied all economic and administrative positions in the autonomous region.

The fear of religious fundamentalist pollution from Afghanistan and Pakistan has led the fight against what Beijing terms terrorism and justified many violations of human rights and religious freedom under that banner.

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