The Chinese government has reportedly detained more than a million Muslims in “re-education” camps. Most of the people who have been arbitrarily detained are Uighur, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group primarily from China’s north-western region of Xinjiang.
Human rights organizations, UN officials, and many foreign governments are urging China to stop the crackdown. But Chinese officials maintain that what they call vocational training centres do not infringe on Uighurs’ human rights. They have refused to share information about the detention centres, and prevented journalists and foreign investigators from examining them. However, internal Chinese government documents leaked in late 2019 have provided important details on how officials launched and maintain the detention camps.
Experts estimate that Xinjiang “re-education” efforts started in 2014 and were drastically expanded in 2017. Reuters’ journalists, observing satellite imagery, found that thirty-nine of the camps almost tripled in size between April 2017 and August 2018; they cover a total area roughly the size of 140 soccer fields. Similarly, analysing local and national budgets over the past few years, Germany-based Xinjiang expert Adrian Zenz found that construction spending on security-related facilities in Xinjiang increased by 20 billion Yuan (around $2.96 billion) in 2017.
Most people in the camps have never been charged with crimes and have no legal avenues to challenge their detentions. The detainees seem to have been targeted for a variety of reasons, according to media reports, including traveling to or contacting people from any of the twenty-six countries China considers sensitive, such as Turkey and Afghanistan; attending services at mosques; having more than three children; and sending texts containing Quranic verses. Often, their only crime is being Muslim, human rights groups say, adding that many Uighurs have been labelled as extremists simply for practicing their religion.
What is happening in the camps?
Information on what actually happens in the camps is limited, but many detainees who have since fled China describe harsh conditions. Detainees are forced to pledge loyalty to the CCP and renounce Islam, they say, as well as sing praises for communism and learn Mandarin. Some reported prison-like conditions, with cameras and microphones monitoring their every move and utterance. Others said they were tortured and subjected to sleep deprivation during interrogations. Women have shared stories of sexual abuse, with some saying they were forced to undergo abortions or have contraceptive devices implanted against their will. Recent reports say forced sterilisation and abortion in camps and outside camps in Xinjiang as well.
Detention also disrupts families. Children whose parents have been sent to the camps are often forced to stay in state-run orphanages. Uighur parents living outside of China often face a difficult choice: return home to be with their children and risk detention, or stay abroad, separated from their children and unable to contact them.
China keeps denying any such Human Rights violations but the proof from leaked reports and victim testimonies paint a very gruesome and disturbing picture with regard to the Human Rights of this minority population in China.
Article compiled by: Antika Priyadarshi, Intern HRDI