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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

Prove identity to ride metro: New subway in China’s Xinjiang requires ID to buy tickets

The first subway line in the northwestern Chinese city of Urumqi will require riders to show identification, adding to a growing list of security regulations in the restive surrounding region of Xinjiang.

world Updated: Apr 12, 2018 00:40 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
A woman passes a wall mural which reads ‘China Dream’ in Shanghai on April 11, 2018.
A woman passes a wall mural which reads ‘China Dream’ in Shanghai on April 11, 2018. (AFP)

Commuters planning a ride on the first metro line in the Chinese city of Urumqi in Xinjiang will have to show identification documents to buy tickets, the latest addition to a long list of intrusive restrictions in the restive region, according to rights activists.

Though mandatory for long-distance train rides across China, Urumqi is the first city where real name registration will be required to buy a ticket for an intra-city train ride when the new line is fully operational later this year.

Home to millions from the Uyghur Muslim community, the province is under a tight  security blanket in response to what Chinese government say are incidents of militancy and religious extremism.

Hundreds have been killed in Xinjiang, the largest province in China, in ethnic violence between Uyghurs and the majority Han community. Government offices and police stations have been targeted.

The government blames extremists for the violence and says separatist forces are at work in the province.

For provincial authorities, the requirement of identity papers will add another layer of security.

According to the Associated Press, the rule - passed by the Xinjiang legislature on Sunday - allows for fines of up to 200 yuan ($32) for those without valid tickets or who use other’s IDs to buy tickets once the train begins running.

The new rule, activists say, will apply to all who decide to take the metro – and not just Uyghurs. But the regulation indicates a tightening of surveillance in the province.

“It’s for everyone who rides the Urumqi subway. The Chinese government generally is careful to phrase their policies and laws in ethnic-neutral manner on paper, thus you cannot find policies that apply to Uyghurs. The Communist Party of China is all about ethnic unity around one single nation, so its forced assimilation policies are worded in terms that promote ethnic ‘harmony’,” said Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based China researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Besides deploying thousands of armed personnel across the province, especially in Uyghur-majority areas, the government has put in place an electronic surveillance network that includes facial recognition.  

Wang added: “The Chinese government’s restrictions on Islam in Xinjiang go even further and are often intrusive and personal. The authorities prohibit certain forms of Islamic dress - such as burqa for women and ‘abnormal’ beard for men. They also ban 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 fervour’.”

That’s not all.

According to Wang, traditional customs such as religious weddings, burials or pilgrimages are prohibited or heavily restricted. Uyghur traditional celebrations, revolving around Islamic holidays such as Ramzan, are increasingly restricted.

“The authorities have prohibited certain categories of Muslims - governments officials, students and teachers - from observing the fast during Ramadan. There are also reports that restaurants in some locations were ordered to stay open. Uyghurs are also being pressured to partake in Han Chinese holidays and their traditions, such as the Chinese New Year,” Wang added.

First Published: Apr 11, 2018 22:44 IST

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