China bans 'abnormal' beards, sets rules on veils in Xinjiang

BEIJING • China will step up a campaign against religious extremism in the far-western region of Xinjiang by implementing a range of measures, including prohibiting "abnormal" beards, the wearing of veils in public places and the refusal to watch state television.

Hundreds of people have died in recent years in Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people, in unrest blamed by Beijing on Islamist militants and separatists, though rights groups say the violence is more a reaction to repressive Chinese policies. The government, however, strongly denies committing any abuses in Xinjiang and insists the legal, cultural and religious rights of Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group, are fully protected.

While China officially guarantees freedom of religion, the authorities have issued a series of measures in the past few years to tackle what it sees as a rise in religious extremism.

New legislation, passed by Xinjiang lawmakers on Wednesday, widens existing rules and will come into effect tomorrow.

Workers in public spaces will be required to dissuade those who fully cover their bodies, including veiling their faces, from entering, and to report them to the police. Also, people will be banned from adopting religious procedures for weddings, and cannot use "the name of halal to meddle in the secular life of others".

Parents should use good moral conduct to influence their children, educate them to revere science, pursue culture, uphold ethnic unity, and refuse and oppose extremism, according to the rules. They also prohibit "abnormal growing of beards and naming of children to exaggerate religious fervour".

A number of bans on select "extremist behaviours" had previously been introduced in some places in Xinjiang, including stopping people with head scarves, veils and long beards from boarding buses in at least one city. The new rules expand the list and apply them to the whole region.

While Uighurs have traditionally practised a more relaxed form of Islam, the popularity of veils for women in particular has grown in recent years in what experts say is an expression of opposition to Chinese controls.

After a period of relative calm, there has been a rise in violence in recent months in Xinjiang's southern Uighur heartland and a large increase in security.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2017, with the headline 'China bans 'abnormal' beards, sets rules on veils in Xinjiang'. Print Edition | Subscribe