China plans new law to combat religious extremism reporter
Beijing China
​January 18, 2016

Minority Muslim Uighurs fear further erosion of their faith after authorities in the restive Xinjiang region announced plans for a new law to combat religious extremism.

The planned legislation coincides with the implementation of a new anti-terrorism law passed last month and the extension of a ‘strike-hard’ campaign in Xinjiang in which extra troops and police have been deployed amid a surge in violence since early 2014.

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

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

Although details of the new religious extremism law are yet to be made public, Xinjiang legislator Nayim Yassen told Chinese state media in mid-January the drafting process had made “significant progress.”

“It will most likely further outlaw traditional Uighur religious beliefs and practices, and attempt to dilute their religious faith and secularize the new generation of Uighurs,” said Alim Seytoff, director of the Washington D.C.-based Uighur Human Rights Project.

The new law was expected to be a “farce” designed to legally justify escalating repression against Muslim worship in Xinjiang in a bid to appease foreign spectators, said Kayum Masimov, president of the Uighur Canadian Society.

The day after state media reported plans to draft a new extremism law, Xinjiang’s government announced new “ethnic solidarity” rules to tackle majority Han Chinese discrimination against minority Muslim Uighurs.

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

Xinjiang has faced among the most stringent rules on religious practice in China during a period in which over 1,500 crosses have been removed 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 prison terms 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, according to public notices.

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

But in a warning printed in the nationalistic Global Times on Jan. 18, a Chinese scholar said Communist Party red tape hindering new churches, temples and mosques was fueling 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,” said Wei Dedong, vice-director of the School of Philosophy at Renmin University in Beijing.