China bans ‘religious’ names for Muslim babies in Xinjiang

A police officer checks the identity card of a man as security forces keep watch in a street in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, in this photo taken on March 24, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 April 2017

China bans ‘religious’ names for Muslim babies in Xinjiang

JEDDAH: China further tightened restrictions on Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang with a ban on Islamic names for babies in an ongoing crackdown that has already seen Muslim women wearing the niqab and men having “abnormal beards” prohibited from using public transportation.
Xinjiang is home to about half of China’s 23 million Muslims.
“This is just the latest in a slew of new regulations restricting religious freedom in the name of countering ‘religious extremism,’ “ Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement. “These policies are blatant violations of domestic and international protections on the rights to freedom of belief and expression.
“If the government is serious about bringing stability and harmony to the region as it claims, it should roll back — not double down on — repressive policies.”
Names such as Islam, Qur’an, Saddam and Makkah, as well as references to the star and crescent moon symbol, are all unacceptable to the ruling
Communist party. Children with those names will be denied household registration, a crucial document that grants access to social services, health care and education, according to The Guardian newspaper in London.
A full list of names has not yet been published and it is unclear exactly what qualifies as a religious name.
While China blames Uighur extremists for terrorist attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the Uighur threat and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
Last month, Xinjiang authorities fired an ethnic Uighur official for holding her wedding ceremony at home according to Islamic traditions instead of at a government-sanctioned venue, according to Radio Free Asia.
The ban stems from China’s crackdowns on the Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang. The Communist Party blames religious extremists for violent incidents that have killed hundreds of people. But Uighur rights groups say the crackdowns violate religious expression.
The ban widens host of restrictions that has already seen staff at train stations and airports prohibit women wearing the niqab and men wearing beards access to transportation.
The restriction on beards is now formalized in the new law, which also stipulates that children cannot have names to “exaggerate religious fervor.”

Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

Updated 39 min 7 sec ago

Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

  • Afghan government excluded from all rounds of talks
  • Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1

KABUL: Afghanistan said on Saturday it expects the US to share details of a peace deal with the Taliban before it is signed, having been excluded from all rounds of talks.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has led diplomats through at least nine rounds of talks with members of the armed group in Qatar since last summer.

A deal could pave the way for a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and end almost two decades of fighting in the country.

But President Ashraf Ghani’s government has been left out of the talks because of objections from the Taliban, which views his regime as a puppet of the West.

The current round of discussions has been described as crucial because, according to present and former Taliban officials, both parties are expected to soon sign a deal.

“The Afghan government expects that it (agreement) will be shared before it is finalized for signing,” Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, told Arab News.

He said Kabul could not say when the deal would be signed, and that troops’ departure would be condition-based and not based on a timeline set by the Taliban.

“Well, force reduction will be based on conditions, the terrorist threat is potential and we must fight it together for our common safety and in order to prevent any major terrorist attacks on the world’s capitals. 

“We must deny terrorists from holding free ground in Afghanistan and turning it into a safe haven. The presence of some forces, and continued and meaningful support to the Afghan security and defense forces, will be key to our success.”

The Taliban wants all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan within a set timetable and, in return, the group says it will not allow Afghan soil to be used against any foreign country or US interests.

Afghan and US officials have warned against a total pullout of troops because, they argue, the Taliban will try to regain power by force and the country will slide back into chaos after troops leave.

But some say a continued presence will prolong the conflict, as neighboring powers oppose the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and see it as a trigger for extremism.

The Taliban could not be reached immediately for comment about media reports, which cited the group’s former and current officials as saying that a deal with Washington was imminent.

“We have an agreement on a timeframe for the withdrawal,” Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s spokesman for the Qatar talks, told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. “Discussions are now focused on its implementation mechanism. We have had general discussions today,” he added, referring to current discussions in Doha. “Tomorrow, we shall have discussions on the implementation part.”

Another Taliban spokesman said the top US military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, had taken part in the current talks which, according to some observers, showed the importance of the discussions and the possibility of a final deal.

Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1, weeks ahead of a crucial and controversial presidential poll in Afghanistan. 

Ghani, who is standing for re-election, says the polls are his priority. Some politicians believe that peace will have to come first and that the vote will have to be delayed.

Abdul Satar Saadat, who served as an adviser to Ghani, said the Taliban and US were racing against time as any delay would damage trust between the two and prompt the Taliban to fight for another five years.

“Because of this both sides are doing their utmost to sign the deal, delay the polls and begin an intra-Afghan dialogue like Oslo,” he told Arab News.