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UN Has ‘Credible Evidence’ China Detaining Millions of Ethnic Minority in Internment Camps

photo of Uighur women sitting on dusty road in old city Kashgar, 2009
Uighur women in the old city Kashgar, taken in 2009 via Wikimedia Commons

Last week the United Nations (U.N.) said it has received numerous credible reports that millions of Uighurs and Muslim minorities are being imprisoned in China in a scenario eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s detainment of Jewish people.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination estimated close to two million people have been forced into camps for political indoctrination in the northwestern Xinjiang region of China. Adding to the humanitarian concern are reports of China building new crematoriums in the region, dismantling mosques, building a database of Uighurs living in China and abroad, and reports that China has installed a massive surveillance system and even conducts five-day homestays in Uighur homes.

Who are the Uighurs?

The Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking people numbering about 10 million in Xinjiang. They are mainly Muslims and an ethnic minority in the country. The Chinese government alleged separatists and Islamic militants from the Uighurs pose a critical threat to the unity of the nation. China says these militants foment trouble between the Muslim Uighur minority and the ethnic Han Chinese majority.

The U.N. report suggests China is dealing with the disturbances by forcing anywhere from 100,000 to two million Uighur people suspected of religious extremism into concentration camps. People forced into the camps are made to renounce their Muslim faith, swear allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and compelled to internalize the propaganda of the CCP party. United Nations investigations reveal up to 40 percent of people in several Uighur villages have become untraceable.

There are also multiple reports of Chinese officials targeting mosques. The Economist reported officials in the province of Ningxia dismantled mosques’ domes and minarets and stifled calls to prayer. The town of Weizhou abandoned plans to demolish a big mosque after a large crowd mounted a vigil outside.

China is Building Crematoriums and Tracking Uighurs Worldwide

Disturbingly, there are also reports that the Chinese government has recently begun a campaign to construct several crematoriums in Xinjiang. American-backed broadcaster Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that “between March 2017 and February 2018, the XUAR government listed 5-10 million yuan (U.S. $760,000 to $1.52 million) tenders for contractors to build nine ‘burial management centers’ that include crematoria in mostly Uyghur-populated areas throughout the region, according to a report listed on the official website of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC).”

In addition to forcing millions of Uighurs into secret concentration camps, the Chinese government has begun to search for Uighurs outside of the Xinjiang region as well. Beijing is reportedly now monitoring Uighurs living in other parts of China and everywhere else in the world. Uighur natives who traveled to study in Thailand, Turkey, Egypt and the United States have been seized and detained by the authorities on their return home.

“I’ve heard about many of these cases of influence and intimidation from Chinese authorities being extended to Uighurs abroad, whether they are students or journalists or everyday people,” said James Millward, a professor of Chinese and Central Asian history at Georgetown University. “In many cases they are permanent residents, green card holders, or even citizens in the United States, Australia, or elsewhere.”

In cases where people in other countries could not be repatriated or tricked to return home, the Chinese government deploys surveillance technology and other means to monitor them. Several Uighurs residing in the United States have said they received phone calls from their parents or siblings living in Xinjiang requesting for their particulars.

The Daily Beast reported one woman said her mother called from China asking for her “U.S. car license plate number, phone numbers, U.S. bank card number, and photocopy of ID card” among other things. She stated her mother’s unsettling voice on the phone made her realize something was amiss and that the phone conversation was likely being monitored. She told her Mom she didn’t have a U.S. bank card or a car in the U.S., although her mother knows that’s untrue.

“They are just telling us, ‘We are watching you. Wherever you go, still you are a Chinese,’” said one Uighur who lives in the greater Washington, DC region. “Even though abroad, it doesn’t mean they can’t do something to you. Because they have your friends, your relatives. I think that’s what they want to tell us.”

The Chinese government is reportedly putting together a massive database and surveillance system to help monitor Uighurs. A year ago, the Chinese government began requiring citizens in Xinjiang to install the Android app known as Jingwang, or “clean internet” on their cell phones. The app scans the users’ phones for information deemed dangerous and transmits it to to a server operated by the Chinese government. Local police are reportedly enforcing compliance by spot-checking residents. Surveillance cameras and facial recognition software is reportedly in use to monitor Uighurs as well.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that in October of 2017 the Chinese government initiated a program called “Becoming Families.” Under the program, about 110,000 officials visit the Uighur population in Xianjing every two months and conduct five-day homestays where they report on any unusual activity in the family. HRW said photos taken by the visiting officials have appeared on Wechat and Weibo accounts, apparently posted there by the officials themselves. They include scenes of family members making beds and sleeping together, sharing meals, and feeding and tutoring their children.

China Calls Uighur Camps ‘Vocational Schools’

China has not publicly acknowledged the imprisonment but rather claims they are vocational schools, however, the evidence suggests that the vocational schools are actually a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”

The Economist reported that Hu Lianhe, a Communist Party official, told the U.N. that reports of internment camps were “completely untrue.” He explained that petty criminals in the region were being assigned to “vocational education” facilities for “rehabilitation and reintegration”, but did not say how many.

Just this month Radio Free Asia published a transcript of an audio recording which the Communist Youth League had reportedly produced to explain the detentions of Uighurs in the region. The recording asserts people are selected for re-education based on being “infected by an ideological illness” that could “manifest itself at any moment.” The broadcast claimed that inpatient treatment at a “hospital” is necessary to “restore their normal mind”.

China responded to Western condemnations of their treatment of the Uighur people with an editorial in the Global Times defending the camps.

“Through the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China, the national strength of the country and the contribution of local officials, Xinjiang has been salvaged from the verge of massive turmoil. It has avoided the fate of becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or ‘China’s Libya,'” the editorial said.

 

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