• Regional lawmakers have endorsed regulations aimed at countering ‘extremist acts’ within the family
  • Rules could be a way for authorities to enlist women’s federation officials to work on ethnic unity, analyst says
Xinjiang lawmakers have endorsed regulations to counter “extremist acts” in the home. Photo: AFP

China's far western region of Xinjiang has added domestic violence to its legal code to combat "extremism" as authorities further tighten controls over the region.

Under the new rules, domestic violence also covers the "exercise of extremist acts " both physical and psychological " that prevent other family members from engaging in normal production and way of life".

Even if the violation is considered minor, the rules empower police officers to reprimand violators, and provide shelter and protection to the victims.

The rules were passed last week by the Standing Committee of the Xinjiang People's Congress, the region's top lawmaking body, as part of its regulations to implement the national legislation against domestic violence.

The legislation was adopted by the National People's Congress in 2015, requiring lower-level lawmaking bodies to issue rules to put it into practice.

China has been widely criticised by Western governments for human rights abuses in Xinjiang that violate the traditional way of life of Uygur Muslims and suppress basic freedoms among the community.

But Beijing says it has only introduced public control measures to maintain social stability and improve employment.

The rules come as Xinjiang Daily, the local official newspaper, has reported a number of cases of Uygurs, who were "under extremist influence", forcing their family members to follow their religious and cultural practices.

Implementation of the legislation was apparently discussed at a meeting of academics and members of the Xinjiang's Women Federation in May last year, according to a report on Xinjiang University's website.

Mihrigul Pati, a deputy chairwoman of the federation, was quoted as saying in the report that the new rules must "enshrine an in-depth understanding of the actual situation in Xinjiang … and have regional characteristics".

The latest regulation on domestic violence is among a string of regulations passed by Xinjiang since 2017 to legitimise draconian control measures, including the controversial internment camps that United Nations experts estimate held more than 1 million Uygurs.

In April 2017, Xinjiang implemented "anti-extremism regulations", banning a wide range of "extremist acts". The regulations were updated about a year later, laying the legal basis for the establishment of mass internment camps in the region to provide "job training" to Uygur Muslims and "eliminate religious extremism" among the population.

Under the 2017 regulations, extremists were defined as anybody who forced others to practise their religion, anybody who intervened in people's marriage and burial practices, as well as anybody who interfered in ethnic and cultural exchanges.

Although senior Xinjiang officials have repeatedly denied claims of human rights violations, the treatment of Uygurs has become a contentious issue for China in its relationship with the West, especially the United States. The US has in recent years enacted a series of Xinjiang-related bills restricting the import of goods from the region and sanctioning officials deemed responsible for the alleged abuses.

Barry Sautman, an expert on ethnic politics in China at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said that it would be"far-fetched" to include spreading extremism into concepts of domestic violence, and the new regulation "may be a way for the local government to mobilise officials in the women's federation to work on the ethnic unity front in Xinjiang".

A legal academic from Xinjiang University agreed. He said the latest regulation was aimed at encouraging cross-cultural marriages between Han Chinese and the Uygurs as "some Uygur women do face pressure from their family when they want to marry Han Chinese".

The academic, who requested anonymity, said the Xinjiang government should do more to protect domestic violence victims as the region was "very far behind in that regard".

"A lot of money has been poured into security and social control, and very little has been spent on providing shelter and protection to the victims of domestic violence," he said.

Adrian Zenz, a US-based academic specialising in Uygur issues, said such measures gave the state increased "legal leeway to push its social re-engineering project".

"Now, the state's right to assert full control over and interfere in family life, work habits and traditional gender roles et cetera is being protected through this legal measure," Zenz said.

He said that in Uygur tradition, men had had control over women, telling them what to do and what not to do. Women had been relegated to traditional roles, and elements of coercion "were certainly present in that".

"However, the government is now coercively interfering in all that, and asserting even more intrusive forms of control over Uygur culture and society than the traditional patriarchal system. Moreover, it does so not so much out of benevolence, but with its own ideological agenda in mind," Zenz said.

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