China has announced bans on beards and burkas in its remote violence-wracked Xinjiang region as part of tighter ‘anti-extremism’ regulations that also prohibit refusing to watch government propaganda.
Xinjiang is the homeland of the Uighurs — a traditionally Muslim group, many of whom complain of cultural and religious repression and discrimination.
The area has been hit by a wave of deadly unrest, while authorities have stepped up already-strict controls and organised mass rallies of thousands of military police to indicate Chinese resolve in crushing security threats.
The new regulations, which will come into force on Saturday, outline prohibitions on growing “abnormal” facial hair or wearing robes that cover the whole body and face.
They also ban spreading “extremist ideas”, refusing to watch or listen to government propaganda on radio or TV, and preventing children from receiving “national education”, according to the text of regulations published on a government website.
China has for years blamed exiled Uighur “separatists’ for a series of violent attacks in Xinjiang and warned of the potential for militants to link up with global jihadist groups.
But many independent experts have doubted the strength of overseas Uighur groups, with some saying China exaggerates the threat to justify tough security measures.
Previously Chinese authorities have restricted granting passports to Uighurs and adopted measures limiting or banning prayer at home, religious education for children, and fasting during Ramadan, which rights groups say has fuelled anger in the region.
Strict controls on the observance of certain Muslim practises, such as growing beards and wearing headscarves have been irregularly enforced in the past, but the new regulations are more sweeping and formal.
A US think tank said in July that tough Chinese religious restrictions on Muslims may have driven more than 100 to join the Islamic State.
Earlier this month Islamic State militants of the Uighur minority released a video vowing to return home and “shed blood like rivers” in China, in what experts said marked the first IS threat against Chinese targets.
In the video, a Uighur fighter issued the threat against China just before executing an alleged informant.
It also featured images of Chinese riot police guarding mosques, patrolling Uighur markets, and arresting men in what appears to be western China. The Chinese flag is pictured engulfed in flames.
The video was released the same day that China held a mass rally of 10,000 officers the region’s capital Urumqi — the fourth such rally this year in Xinjiang.
In one violence-wracked corner of Xinjiang, authorities are offering rewards of up to 5 million yuan ($730,000) to those who expose terror plots or “struggle, kill, wound, or subdue” any attackers.