World News

China's Xinjiang prescribes use of 'vocational' centres to combat extremism

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s far-western Xinjiang region has inserted into its anti-extremism regulations new clauses that prescribe the use of “vocational training centres” to “educate and transform” people influenced by extremist ideology.

Reports of mass detentions and strict surveillance of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have sparked a growing international outcry, prompting the United States to consider sanctions against officials and companies linked to allegations of human rights abuses.

Chinese officials have denied enforcing arbitrary detention and political re-education across a network of secret camps, instead saying that some citizens guilty of minor offences were sent to vocational centres to provide future employment opportunities.

China says Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists and has rejected all accusations of mistreatment in an area where hundreds have been killed in recent years in unrest between Uighurs and members of the ethnic Han Chinese majority.

The three new clauses are the first time the regulations, which first came into effect in April last year, refer to vocational training centres.

“Governments above the county level can set up education and transformation organisations and supervising departments such as vocational training centres, to educate and transform people who have been influenced by extremism,” one of the clauses said.

Separately, the capital of Xinjiang has launched a campaign against halal products to stop Islam penetrating secular life and fuelling “extremism”.

In a meeting on Monday, the Communist Party leaders of Urumqi led cadres to swear an oath to “fight a decisive battle against ‘pan-halalization’,” according to a notice posed on the city’s official WeChat account.

Everyday halal products, like food and toothpaste, must be produced according to Islamic law.

The official Global Times said on Wednesday that the “demand that things be halal which cannot really be halal” was fuelling hostility towards religion and allowing Islam to penetrate secular life.

As part of the anti-halal campaign, Ilshat Osman, Urumqi’s ethnically Uighur head prosecutor, penned an essay entitled: “Friend, you do not need to find a halal restaurant specially for me”.

According to the WeChat post, government employees should not have any diet problems and work canteens would be changed so that officials could try all kinds of cuisine.

The Urumqi Communist Party leaders also said they would require government officials and party members to firmly believe in Marxism-Leninism, and not religion, and to speak standard Mandarin Chinese in public.

Chinese citizens are theoretically free to practise any religion, but they have been subject to increasing levels of surveillance as the government tries to bring religious worship under stricter state control.

The Communist Party in August issued a revised set of regulations governing its members’ behaviour, threatening punishments or expulsion for anyone who clung to religious beliefs.

Reporting by Philip Wen, Christian Shepherd and David Stanway; Editing by Michael Perry and Nick Macfie