China is banning "abnormal" beards and the wearing of veils in public places in its far western Xinjiang region, home to the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority.

New legislation, which comes into effect on Saturday 1 April, also prohibits families from taking their children out of regular school, deliberately damaging legal documents, not abiding by family planning policies and "naming children to exaggerate religious fervour". Refusing to watch state television will be banned, as will marrying using religious rather than legal procedures and "using the name of Halal to meddle in the secular life of others".

Uighur China
A Uighur man talks on the phone in front of the Id Kah Mosque in the old town of Kashgar Thomas Peter/Reuters

Xinjiang province in far western China, located along the historic Silk Road, is home to around 10 million Muslims. Most of these belong to the minority ethnic Uighur group, whose Turkic language and traditions seem more at home in their central Asian neighbours such as Kazakhstan and Tajikistan than in China.

While China officially guarantees freedom of religion, authorities have issued a series of measures in the past few years to tackle what it sees as a rise in religious extremism. While Uighurs have traditionally practiced a more relaxed form of Islam, the popularity of veils for women in particular has grown in recent years in what experts say is an expression of opposition to Chinese controls.

Workers in public spaces like stations and airports will be required to "dissuade" those who fully cover their bodies, including veiling their faces, from entering, and to report them to the police. In the former Silk Road oasis town of Hotan, authorities are offering 2,000 yuan (£233) rewards for those who report "face coverings and robes, youth with long beards, or other popular religious customs that have been radicalised", as part of a wider incentive system that rewards actionable intelligence on imminent attacks.

Spending on security is rising, jumping nearly 20% in 2016 to more than 30 billion yuan, according to state media. That can be seen in the metal detectors and airport-style security checks in place at major public areas, including Kashgar's ancient Id Kah mosque, bazaars, malls and hotels. Police carry out spot document checks on pedestrians. Mobile phones are inspected for extremist videos or use of banned chat applications like Telegram, WhatsApp and Twitter. Mobile internet speeds have been slowed from 4G to 3G.

Three times a day, alarms ring out through the streets of China's ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, and shopkeepers rush out of their stores swinging government-issued wooden clubs. In mandatory anti-terror drills conducted under police supervision and witnessed by Reuters on a recent visit, they fight off imaginary knife-wielding assailants. Armoured paramilitary and police vehicles circle with sirens blaring.

Uighur China
Shopkeepers line up with wooden clubs to perform their daily anti-terror drill outside the bazaar in Kashgar Thomas Peter/Reuters

As well as taking part in drills, shopkeepers must, at their own expense, install password-activated security doors, "panic buttons" and cameras that film not just the street outside but also inside their stores, sending a direct video feed to police.

For Uighurs like the owner of an online multimedia company facing one of Kashgar's main streets it is not about security, but mass surveillance. "We have no privacy," said the business owner who, like almost everyone Reuters spoke to in Kashgar, did not want to give his name. "They want to see what you're up to."

Uighur China
Men install a CCTV camera in a shopping street in the old town of Kashgar Thomas Peter/Reuters

Uighurs are required to attend weekly flag-raising ceremonies to denounce religious extremism and pledge fealty under the Chinese flag. At one such event, witnessed by Reuters in Hotan, more than 1,000 people filed onto an open-air basketball court where party officials checked their names against an attendance list and inspected their dress and appearance. "Best you take this off or I'll send you to re-education," said one female official, pulling back the black hijab worn by a middle-aged Uighur woman to expose her forehead and hair.

What the authorities call "convenience police stations" have been built across Xinjiang, staffed by some 30,000 new officers. They are present on almost every intersection in Kashgar, typically just hundreds of metres apart. Citizens are encouraged to use the stations to charge their mobile phones, have a cup of tea or shelter from the elements. Local state media have praised the initiatives as a new benchmark in community-based policing. Critics, including Uighur and rights groups, say the real purpose of the convenience police stations is to spy on the population.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a "great wall of iron" to safeguard Xinjiang during the annual meeting of China's parliament earlier this month.

Beijing accuses separatists among the Uighur minority of stirring up tensions with the ethnic Han Chinese majority and plotting attacks elsewhere in China. This month a video purportedly released by Isis showed Uighur fighters training in Iraq and vowing that blood would "flow in rivers" in China. Hundreds of people have died in recent years in Xinjiang in unrest blamed by Beijing on Islamist militants and separatists, though rights groups say the violence is more a reaction to repressive Chinese policies.

Since ethnic riots in the regional capital Urumqi in 2009, Xinjiang has been plagued by bouts of deadly violence. The incidence of attacks reported in state media have actually declined markedly, both in frequency and scale, since a spate of bombings and mass stabbings in Xinjiang and southwestern Yunnan Province in 2014. Chinese state media say the threat remains high and the Communist Party has vowed to continue what it terms its own "war on terror" against spreading Islamist extremism.

A Chinese security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the new security measures in Xinjiang were not politically motivated, but based on fresh developments and intelligence. He declined to elaborate. The Xinjiang government and the State Council Information Office, which doubles as the Communist Party spokesman's office, did not respond to requests for comment.

The government strongly denies committing any abuses in Xinjiang and insists the legal, cultural and religious rights of Uighurs are fully protected. It points to the vast sums it spends on economic development in the resource-rich region. Xinjiang's GDP last year rose 7.6 percent, above the national average.