Urumqi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A proposed burqa ban in the capital city of Xinjiang province could spark further unrest in the troubled region, experts warn.
The Urumqi People's Congress Standing Committee voted yesterday in favour of banning people from wearing the garment in public, the local news website Tianshan.net reported.
The proposal must now be reviewed by the regional People's Congress Standing Committee before it is implemented, though the report - later deleted from the site - did not specify when this would happen.
The burqa, a garment worn by Muslim woman to cover themselves from head-to-toe, is considered a symbol of religious extremism by the local authorities.
"Burqas are not a traditional Muslim garment in Xinjiang," said Jiang Zhaoyong, a Beijing-based expert on ethnic affairs. "The ban has been issued following public security concerns. Some people are wearing it not because of their religion, but to act out their resentments against society."
Beijing blames religious extremists for a series of attacks that have killed hundreds of people in Xinjiang over the past few years.
Xinjiang launched a "beautifying project" in 2011 to discourage women from covering their faces and wearing the burqa. Several campaigns against producing, selling or wearing the garments have been mounted by county and district-level governments in the province.
Last month, Xinjiang said it would ban the practice of religion in government workplaces, public schools and state-owned enterprises from next year.
The province is one of the most turbulent in all of China. Its Uighur Muslim minority, who number about nine million, have long sought independence from China.
The central government, for its part, has brought in millions of settlers to make Han Chinese the dominant ethnic group.
At the same time, it has severely curtailed Muslim religious worship as well as the teaching of the local language and culture.
Since 2009 Chinese police and the military have held the region under a special regime, which Beijing imposed following clashes that left nearly 200 people dead. As a result of various episodes of violence, hundreds of long prison sentences were imposed and dozens of death penalties were carried out.
Chinese authorities blame Muslim extremists for the wave of violence. Uighur exiles claim instead that Beijing is "exaggerating" the threat of Islamic terrorism to justify repression against indigenous Uighurs.