When prospective parents deliberate over baby names – a joyful, private discussion – they tend to make decisions based on hopes for the child, passing on a family name, or some other tradition. Few would ever dream of having to consult a list of banned names – but this is the latest absurd restriction that the Chinese government has imposed on people in Xinjiang region, home to 10 million Muslim Uyghurs.
According to media reports, Xinjiang authorities have recently banned dozens of names with religious connotations common to Muslims around the world, such as Saddam and Medina, on the basis that they could “exaggerate religious fervor.” Children with banned names will not be able to obtain a “hukou,” or household registration, essential for accessing public school and other social services.
This is just the latest in a slew of new regulations restricting religious freedom in the name of countering “religious extremism.” On April 1, Xinjiang authorities imposed new rules prohibiting the wearing of “abnormal” beards or veils in public places, and imposing punishments for refusing to watch state TV or radio programs. These policies are blatant violations of domestic and international protections on the rights to freedom of belief and expression.
Punishments also appear to be increasing for officials in Xinjiang who are deemed to be too lenient. In January, the authorities imposed a “serious warning” on an official for complaining to his wife through a messaging app about government policies. In March, a Uyghur official was reportedly removed from her job for holding her wedding ceremony at home instead of at a government-approved venue. Earlier this month, 97 officials in Hotan prefecture were reprimanded, including one who was demoted for “not daring” to smoke in front of religious figures, which supposedly reflected an inadequately “resolute political stance.”
Violent incidents and ethnic tensions in Xinjiang have been on the rise in recent years, but the government’s farcically repressive policies and punishments are hardly solutions. Instead, they are only going to deepen resentment among Uyghurs. 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.