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.”


Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

Updated 23 min 5 sec ago

Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

  • Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown
  • China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage

HONG KONG: Thirteen prominent Hong Kong democracy activists appeared in court on Monday charged with holding an unauthorized gathering to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the latest in a string of prosecutions against protest leaders in the restless financial hub.
Last month tens of thousands of Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown against students pushing for democracy.
The annual vigil has been held in Hong Kong for the last three decades and usually attracts huge crowds. It has taken on particular significance in recent years as the semi-autonomous city chafes under Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
This year’s vigil was banned for the first time with authorities citing coronavirus measures. At the time local transmission had largely been halted.
But thousands turned out to hold candles in their neighborhoods and in Victoria Park, the traditional site of the vigil.
Police later arrested 13 leading activists who appeared at the Victoria Park vigil.
All appeared in court on Monday to be formally charged with “inciting” an unlawful assembly, which carries up to five years in jail.
Among them are Jimmy Lai, the millionaire owner of the openly pro-democracy Apple newspaper, veteran democracy activists such as Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho as well as young campaigner Figo Chan.
When asked if he understood the charge, Lee invoked the hundreds who were killed by Chinese tanks and soldiers at Tiananmen.
“This is political persecution,” he said. “The real incitement is the massacre conducted by the Chinese Communist Party 31 years ago.”
Some of those charged on Monday — and many other leading democracy figures — face separate prosecutions related to last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage and portrayed the protests as a plot by foreigners to destabilize the motherland.
Earlier this month Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law aimed at stamping out the protests once and for all.
The law targets subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion, with sentences including life in prison.
But its broad phrasing — such as a ban on encouraging hatred toward China’s government — has sent fear rippling through a city used to being able to speak its mind.
Police have arrested people for possessing pro-independence or autonomy material, libraries and schools have pulled books, political parties have disbanded and one prominent opposition politician has fled.
The law bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature and its contents were kept secret until the moment it was enacted.
It empowered China’s security apparatus to set up shop openly in Hong Kong for the first time, while Beijing has also claimed jurisdiction for some serious national security cases — ending the legal firewall between the mainland the city’s independent judiciary.
China has also announced global jurisdiction to pursue national security crimes committed by anyone outside of Hong Kong and China, including foreigners.