Beijing furthers campaign to ‘Sinicize’ ethnic Muslims with new law

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Originally published by AFP on January 6, 2019

In the latest push in an aggressive campaign to “Sinicize” Muslims in China, Beijing on Saturday reportedly passed a law dictating the way Islam can be practised in the country.

The Global Times, China’s most popular English paper, reported that following a government-organized meeting with representatives of eight Islamic groups, Beijing decided to enact a legal measure “to guide Islam to be compatible with socialism and implement measures to Sinicize the religion.”

The report did not provide further details on the law, its implementation, or the specific organizations present at the meeting.

Roughly one million of China’s ethnic minority Uighur Muslims are currently being held in “reeducation” camps. Rights groups have raised alarm bells over the camps, saying they are not “vocation training centers” geared toward teaching Chinese language and culture, as Beijing claims.

The United Nations in August called for China to immediately release the detainees, stating they had received credible reports that an estimated one million Uighurs were imprisoned in what resembled a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”

China regularly accuses what it says are exiled Uighur separatist groups such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) of being behind terror attacks in Xinjiang province, which has seen a wave of deadly unrest in recent years.

The ruling Communist Party has justified increasingly tight policing of Xinjiang by saying it faces a threat from Islamic extremism and separatism, but many Muslims in the region accuse Beijing of religious and cultural repression.

But overseas experts doubt the strength of the groups and their links to global terrorism, with some saying China exaggerates the threat to justify tough security measures in the resource-rich region.

Authorities in Xinjiang arrested nearly 228,000 people on criminal charges in 2017, according to data compiled from official government sources by rights group China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) .

The dramatic increase in arrests followed the introduction of draconian new restrictions on religious practices in Xinjiang, where about half the population of around 22 million are ethnic minorities.

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