China has banned dozens of Islamic names like 'Saddam' and 'Jihad' for babies belonging to the restive Muslim-majority Xinjiang province, in a move that would prevent children from getting access to education and government benefits, a leading rights group said on Tuesday.
Xinjiang authorities have recently banned dozens of names with religious connotations common to Muslims around the world on the basis that they could "exaggerate religious fervour," the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
Islam, Quran, Mecca, Jihad, Imam, Saddam, Hajj, and Medina are among dozens of baby names banned under ruling Chinese Communist Party's "Naming Rules For Ethnic Minorities," an official was quoted as saying by Radio Free Asia.
Children with banned names will not be able to obtain a "hukou," or household registration, essential for accessing public school and other social services, it said.
The new measures are part of China's fight against terrorism in this troubled region, home to 10 million Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority.
This is the latest in a slew of new regulations restricting religious freedom in the name of countering "religious extremism," the HRW said.
Conflicts between the Uyghur and the Han, the majority ethnic group in China who also control the government, are common in Xinjiang.
A full list of names has not yet been published and it is unclear exactly what qualifies as a religious name, it said.
On April 1, Xinjiang authorities imposed new rules prohibiting the wearing of "abnormal" beards or veils in public places, and imposing punishments for refusing to watch state TV or radio programmes.
These policies are blatant violations of domestic and international protections on the rights to freedom of belief and expression, the HRW said.
Punishments also appear to be increasing for officials in Xinjiang who are deemed to be too lenient.
In January, the authorities imposed a "serious warning" on an official for complaining to his wife through a messaging app about government policies.