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China Tells Citizens to Inform on Parents Who ‘Lure’ Kids Into Religion

New rules on education target China’s minority Muslim Uighur community at a time of rising unrest in Xinjiang.

TURPAN, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) A Uyghur woman holds a child in her home as they prepare food during the Corban Festival on September 12, 2016 in Turpan County, in the far western Xinjiang province, China. The Corban festival, known to Muslims worldwide as Eid al-Adha or 'feast of the sacrifice', is celebrated by ethnic Uyghurs across Xinjiang, the far-western region of China bordering Central Asia that is home to roughly half of the country's 23 million Muslims. The festival, considered the most important of the year, involves religious rites and visits to the graves of relatives, as well as sharing meals with family. Although Islam is a 'recognized' religion in the constitution of officially atheist China, ethnic Uyghurs are subjected to restrictions on religious and cultural practices that are imposed by China's Communist Party. Ethnic tensions have fueled violence that Chinese authorities point to as justification for the restrictions.  (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
TURPAN, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) A Uyghur woman holds a child in her home as they prepare food during the Corban Festival on September 12, 2016 in Turpan County, in the far western Xinjiang province, China. The Corban festival, known to Muslims worldwide as Eid al-Adha or 'feast of the sacrifice', is celebrated by ethnic Uyghurs across Xinjiang, the far-western region of China bordering Central Asia that is home to roughly half of the country's 23 million Muslims. The festival, considered the most important of the year, involves religious rites and visits to the graves of relatives, as well as sharing meals with family. Although Islam is a 'recognized' religion in the constitution of officially atheist China, ethnic Uyghurs are subjected to restrictions on religious and cultural practices that are imposed by China's Communist Party. Ethnic tensions have fueled violence that Chinese authorities point to as justification for the restrictions. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

See something, say something — even a child practicing religion?

That’s what China is telling citizens in the majority-Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang. New education rules released Wednesday encourage people to inform on parents who send their kids to religious schools or “coerce” them to practice religion.

Officially, China guarantees the right to freedom of religion but also stipulates that religious activities should not disrupt public order or interfere with the education system. The Communist Party carefully regulates religious activities, including religious education, and generally discourages minors from becoming believers.

Such restrictions are particularly severe in Xinjiang, where almost half the population are ethnic Uighur Muslims. In recent years, restrictions on cultural and religious activities have stoked resentment and led to unrest, including attacks on police, train stations, and markets.

The state has tried many methods to tamp down its Uighur minority, including recently banning headscarves and beards, forbidding students and state workers to fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and cracking down on underground Koranic schools. Two years ago officials began a longer-term strategy by encouraging intermarriage between ethnic Chinese and Uighurs with cash incentives, hoping to dilute Muslim communities over generations.

The new education rules, set to go into effect on Nov. 1, say parents cannot “organize, lure or force minors into attending religious activities,” or force them to wear religious dress or symbols. Parents are also forbidden to “abet, coerce, attract, or tolerate minors’ participation in terrorism, extremism, and underground scripture studies,” which essentially gives Beijing carte blanche to determine what is and what isn’t extremist behavior. If parents are caught encouraging religion, “any group or person has the right to stop these kinds of behaviors and report them to the public security authorities.”

China denies abuse or suppression of the Uighur community and insists it fully protects minority rights. It blames recent unrest in the region on Islamic extremists. In 2014 China sentenced prominent Uighur intellectual Ilham Tohti to life in prison on separatism charges. But outside the country he’s been called “China’s Mandela” for his work promoting Uighur rights and was awarded the prestigious Martin Ennals human rights defenders award on Tuesday.

Photo credit: KEVIN FRAYER/Getty Images

Kavitha Surana is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy, where she produces breaking news and original reports with a particular focus on immigration, counterterrorism, and border security policy. Previously, Kavitha worked at New York magazine’s Bedford + Bowery blog, CNNMoney, The Associated Press in Italy, and Fareed Zakaria GPS and has freelanced from Italy and Germany for publications like Quartz, Al Jazeera America, OZY, and GlobalPost/PRI. In 2015, she was awarded a Fulbright trip to Germany, as well as a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation to report on migration and integration. She also reported from Rwanda and Senegal. Kavitha studied European history at Columbia University and holds a master’s degree in journalism and European studies from New York University. She has studied in Italy and Peru and speaks Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. @ksurana6

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