China’s Local Government Restricts Freedom of Uyghur Minorities

A picture taken in a school in China’s northwestern province of Xinjiang became viral on China’s internet on September 23. The picture shows a poster listing two sets of rules for kindergarten teachers put forth by the government in the Hotan Prefecture.

The right side of the poster shows the Five-Point Directive, issued by the Education Department in late June, that bans the use of the Uyghur language in all school activities in order to “fully promote the use of national common language.”

Under the directive, schools must immediately halt the current Uyghur language trainings for Mandarin teachers. It prohibits any document or poster written in Uyghur without the equivalent translation to Mandarin. Additionally, the guideline bans the use of Uyghur in “collective, public, and management activities in the educational system.”

To accompany the Five-Point Directive on the educational system, the government issued the Eight-Point Discipline to directly address the proper behaviors of kindergarten teachers. The discipline restricts teachers from expressing any religious belief and prohibits male teachers from growing facial hair and female teachers from wearing a hijab.

Setting aside the political and social motivations that compelled the government to issue the guidelines, the documents in fact violate the Chinese Constitution regarding freedom of religion and freedom granted to ethnic minorities. The constitution grants people of all ethnicities the right to use, develop, and preserve their own languages and customs, protects the freedom of religion for all citizens, and encourages self-governance for ethnic minorities in economic, political, and social affairs.

The new policy has received mixed responses from Chinese citizens. While many Chinese Internet users see the rules as an embodiment of the government’s commitment to unify the country under one language, many Uyghur activists, such as Dilshat Reshit, a leading member on the World Uyghur Congress, see them as a reflection of Beijing’s attempt to exert more control over the Uyghur minority in order to remove sentiments of Islamic extremism and independence for the province.