The western region of China, Xinjiang, is home to approximately 11.3 million Turkic ethnic group of Muslims called The Uyghurs. In 2016, Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party Secretary of the Xinjiang region, recruited 90,000 police officers and over 7000 checkpoints, turning the region into one of the most heavily policed areas in China. There are concerns the increase in police activity is due to the targeting of the Uyghurs, and the operations, treatments and disappearance of some Uyghurs are in question.
United Nations reported on credible evidence it received showing Uyghurs were being held in re-education camps in western China. Reports of Uyghurs being detained for having “abnormal” long beards and/or wearing veils in public, with detainees being held against their will, forced to learn Mandarin, swear loyalty to President Xi Jinping, eat food against their faith and criticize or denounce their faith.
It is believed approximately 100,000 Uyghurs are reportedly held in re-education camps. A former inmate describes the experience of ‘brainwashing and torture’, saying:
“Those who disobeyed the rules, refused to be on duty, engaged in fights or were late for studies were placed in handcuffs and ankle cuffs for up to 12 hours… Further disobedience would result in waterboarding or long periods strapped in agony in a metal contraption known as a “tiger chair…”
In addition, there are reports on high surveillance within the facility, with checkpoints, use of facial recognition, mandatory spyware on all detainees phones to monitor online activities and coded electronic doors.
In 2016, passports belonging to the residents were taken away, forcing people to ask for permission to leave the country. Reports claim that Uyghurs have the risk of being reported by police if seen with a beard or calling your child the name Muhammad. Females are banned from wearing face veils and Uyghurs are not allowed to fast in the region.
While many of these facilities are built from scratch, there are reports some existing buildings being converted into re-education camps. These converted buildings include factories and schools, with heavy security surrounding the area and checkpoints prior to entering. Journalists in the area are highly scrutinized, with many being turned away, followed or stopped for searching.
While the United Nations Human Right Committee has condemned these reports, calling for a ‘complete shut up’ & ‘immediate release of those detained’, China has denied allegations of bad treatment towards Uyghurs, and denied such internment camps existed, but later expressed their concern of ‘religious extremism’ stated in August,
“The argument that ‘a million Uyghurs are detained in re-education centres’ is completely untrue.”
Then clarifying in October,
“the Uyghurs have full rights, but well those deceived by religious extremism shall be assisted by resettlement and re-education”
This was the first official acknowledgement of the facilities by the Chinese government.
In the past, China has expressed its concern towards extremists, stating it’s a serious threat towards the country, and that the violent incidents were mostly orchestrated by Uyghurs extremists.
The Xinjiang region has had the conflict for many decades, with incidences involving the Uyghur community. In 2008, an Uyghur woman detonated a bomb on a city bus, resulting in an outcry of violence by the Uyghur people known as the Uyghur Unrest. 2009 saw the riots in Urumqi resulting in deaths of Uyghurs and Han Chinese. An Uyghur man detonated a bomb in 2010 in Aksu. 2012, an attack in Yecheng town near the Chinese-Pakistan border by eight Uyghurs with knives, on pedestrians, however, details are disputed on both sides. Continuous tensions and violent outbreaks are still occurring today.
While the treatment of Uyghurs in these camps are being questioned by world leaders, there are still Uyghurs who hold positions of authority in Xinjiang, including police officers and governmental officials. Sherrod Zakir, chairman of the government of Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, and an Uyghur himself has spoken about how the region of Xinjiang has been plagued by extremism and as such states the benefits of the re-education camps:
… [by]addressing the root cause of terrorism and move to bring around educate and save the majority of those who committed petty crimes through assistance and education prevent them from becoming victims of terrorism and extremism.
Zakir has stated in the past that Uyghurs who have little knowledge of Mandarin, Chinese history and Chinese laws are more vulnerable to extremism. He has recently spoken about how these re-education camps have helped the region limit extremist attacks, stating:
In the past 21 months, no violent terrorist attacks have occurred and the number of criminal cases, including those endangering public security, has dropped significantly.
In November, the United Nations council members and Chinese officials are to meet, where questions are expected to be asked relating to these camps and the treatment of Uyghurs in the region.