China’s Codification of Repression Continues with “De-Extremification Measures”

For immediate release

April 6, 2017 3:35 pm EST

Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) is concerned that new regulations curbing Uyghurs’ religious beliefs and practices is an open violation of fundamental human rights. UHRP calls on the international community, including concerned governments, multilateral agencies and NGOs to remind China of its international obligations to human rights standards, particularly in regard to religious freedom.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Regulations on De-extremification were adopted on March 29th and came into force on April 1st.  The measures are based on legislation previously implemented in East Turkestan, including the XUAR Religious Affairs Regulations in 2015 and the XUAR Implementing Measures of the Counter-Terrorism Law of the People’s Republic of China in 2016.

The strict laws passed at the regional level of East Turkestan indicates China’s repression of Uyghurs is targeted. Furthermore, UHRP believes the Chinese government seeks to codify repressive actions in law to provide a veneer of legality.

“The new law attempts to eradicate ‘extremism;’ however, it does not explore the root causes of instability in East Turkestan. Harsh curbs on political and cultural rights in the region have engendered an ongoing atmosphere of tension. The law merely legislates for a problem the Chinese government created,” said UHRP director, Omer Kanat in a statement.

Mr. Kanat added: “The regulations implemented on April 1st should leave no doubt that the Chinese government is targeting Uyghurs. This process has been evident in a series of laws and policies that have left Uyghurs with no choice than to exist with repression or face prison. The international community has a responsibility in challenging such dire conditions and reminding China of its international obligations.”

China’s laws aimed at regulating the practice of religion and free speech are typically broad and vague enough to be used flexibly by the authorities.  The new ‘de-extremification’ regulations calls for administrative divisions from the regional to the district levels to set up small groups on eliminating extremism, and requires all levels of government to complete them according to their respective duties. The leadership of these departments will be evaluated on their success in implementing them.

The measures describe ‘de-extremification’ as the responsibility of all aspects of society and goes on to list the ‘de-extremification’ duties of virtually every government department, including public security, education, judicial, press, culture, transportation, health, and those dealing with telecommunications, giving a sense of how pervasive these new measures will be.

Many of the articles of the new law have been implemented before.  For example, Article 9 prohibits veils and “irregular beards,” which have been banned in various parts of East Turkestan over the years.  The new regulation also forbids “generalizing the concept of halal,” which was also banned in the XUAR Implementing Measures of the Counter-Terrorism Law of the People’s Republic of China, as was “interfering with” weddings, funerals and inheritance.  Article 17 calls for strengthening the already heavy-handed state management of religious activity, including through the internet; Uyghurs are already being subjected to random searches of their phones to ensure they are not accessing ‘extreme’ media.  Even declining to consume state radio and television are described as signs of ‘extremification.’

The government blames outside forces instead of its own polices for any unrest in East Turkestan and increasingly links religious practice to “extremism.”  Chinese state media quoted one XUAR official as saying: “In Xinjiang, the root of terrorist activities is separatism, and its ideological foundation is extremism.”

The new regulations represent the codification of many practices that have been taking place in East Turkestan, as well as an escalation of repressive policies under the Xi Jinping administration. The Chinese government wishes to create a sense of safety and stability as it seeks to turn East Turkestan into a transit hub for its One Belt One Road projects in Central and South Asia.  UHRP believes these policies are likely to prove counterproductive; everything from high-tech counterterrorism exercises, requiring cars to have GPS installed in them, forcing shopkeepers to participate in drills, and conducting house-to-house searches for “illegal items” including unsanctioned literature and clothing do not create a sense of security.

The Chinese leadership has been increasingly bellicose in its rhetoric about XUAR in 2017, with a massive rally of paramilitary police  in February, Xi Jinping calling for a “great wall of iron”  to be built in the region during the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress in March, while the State Commissioner for Counter Terrorism and Security described the situation in East Turkestan as “the most prominent challenge to China’s social stability, economic development and national security.”