There are evidence of Chinese government’s mass arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment of Muslims
The Chinese government is conducting a mass, systematic campaign of human rights violations against Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang in northwestern China and as usual the Muslim world is mum. In these parts of the world the Muslims are forced into camps, tortured, forced to eat pork and drink alcohol.
In a speech, Chinese Communist Youth League Xinjiang Branch, states that: “The training has only one purpose: to learn laws and regulations…to eradicate from the mind thoughts about religious extremism and violent terrorism, and to cure ideological diseases. If the education is not going well, we will continue to provide free education, until the students achieve satisfactory results and graduate smoothly.”
The Chinese government has long carried out repressive policies against the Turkic Muslim peoples in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwest China.
These efforts have been dramatically scaled up since late 2016, when Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo relocated from the Tibet Autonomous Region to assume leadership of Xinjiang.
There are evidence of the Chinese government’s mass arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang and details the systemic and increasingly pervasive controls on daily life there. These rampant abuses violate fundamental rights to freedom of expression, religion, and privacy, and protections from torture and unfair trials.
More broadly, governmental controls over day-to-day life in Xinjiang primarily affect ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other minorities, in violation of international law’s prohibitions against discrimination.
There have been reports of deaths in the political education camps, raising concerns about physical and psychological abuse, as well as stress from poor conditions, overcrowding, and indefinite confinement.
While basic medical care is available, people are held even when they have serious illnesses or are elderly; there are also children in their teens, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people with disabilities. Former detainees reported suicide attempts and harsh punishments for disobedience in the facilities.
Chinese officials have denied that abuses have occurred; instead they characterize these camps as “vocational education and employment training centers” for “criminals involved in minor offenses.” However, they permit no independent monitoring of these facilities from the UN, human rights organizations, or the media.
In recent years the Chinese government has devoted enormous financial, human, and technical resources for social control in Xinjiang.
Authorities have hired tens of thousands additional security personnel while building numerous “convenience” police stations and checkpoints in the region. They have closely monitored people’s familial and social networks as indicators of their level of political trustworthiness.
The government detains people and subjects them to greater levels of controls not only based on their own behavior or beliefs, but also those of their family members – a form of collective punishment contrary to international human rights law.
Perhaps the most innovative – and disturbing – of the repressive measures in Xinjiang is the government’s use of high-tech mass surveillance systems.
Xinjiang authorities conduct compulsory mass collection of biometric data, such as voice samples and DNA, and use artificial intelligence and big data to identify, profile, and track everyone in Xinjiang.
The authorities have envisioned these systems as a series of “filters,” picking out people with certain behaviour or characteristics that they believe indicate a threat to the Communist Party’s rule in Xinjiang. These systems have also enabled authorities to implement fine-grained control, subjecting people to differentiated restrictions depending on their perceived levels of “trustworthiness.”
Authorities have sought to justify harsh treatment in the name of maintaining stability and security in Xinjiang, and to “strike at” those deemed terrorists and extremists in a “precise” and “in-depth” manner. Xinjiang officials claim the root of these problems is the “problematic ideas” of Turkic Muslims.
These ideas include what authorities describe as extreme religious dogmas, but also any non-Han Chinese sense of identity, be it Islamic, Turkic, Uyghur, or Kazakh. Authorities insist that such beliefs and affinities must be “corrected” or “eradicated.”
During the past five years, a number of violent incidents attributed to Uyghur perpetrators have been reported in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China, and there have been reports of Uyghur fighters joining armed extremist groups abroad. The government has imposed far greater restrictions on Uyghurs than on other ethnic minorities.
However, ethnic Kazakhs living mostly in northern Xinjiang have, since late 2016, been increasingly targeted under the Strike Hard Campaign.
Still, the Strike Hard Campaign’s broad mandate to punish and control Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang because of their identities cannot be justified as part of the state’s responsibility to ensure public security.
In many ways, the treatment of all Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang – those held inside detention facilities and those ostensibly free – bears disturbing similarities.
Inside political education camps, detainees are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, sing praises of the Chinese Communist Party, and memorize rules applicable primarily to Turkic Muslims.
Those outside the camps are required to attend weekly, or even daily, Chinese flag-raising ceremonies, political indoctrination meetings, and at times Mandarin classes.
Detainees are told they may not be allowed to leave the camps unless they have learned over 1,000 Chinese characters or are otherwise deemed to have become loyal Chinese subjects; Turkic Muslims living outside are subjected to movement restrictions ranging from house arrest, to being barred from leaving their locales, to being prevented from leaving the country.
Inside, people are punished for peacefully practicing religion; outside, the government’s religious restrictions are so stringent that it has effectively outlawed Islam.
Inside, people are closely watched by guards and are barred from contacting their families and friends. Those living in their homes are watched by their neighbors, officials, and tech-enabled mass surveillance systems, and are not allowed to contact those in foreign countries.
Xinjiang’s Strike Hard Campaign has also had implications abroad. The Xinjiang authorities have made foreign ties a punishable offense, targeting people with connections to an official list of “26 sensitive countries,” including Kazakhstan, Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
People who have been to these countries, have families, or otherwise communicate with people there, have been interrogated, detained, and even tried and imprisoned.
Interviewees report that even those with connections to countries outside this list, and those caught using WhatsApp or other foreign communications software, have also been detained.
And in recent years, the Chinese government has stepped up pressure on other governments to forcibly return Uyghurs in their countries to China.
Human Rights Watch has also found that the Strike Hard Campaign has divided families, with some family members in Xinjiang and others abroad caught unexpectedly by the tightening of passport controls and border crossings. Children have at times been trapped in one country without their parents.
Because Xinjiang authorities punish people for contacting their families abroad, many interviewees said they had lost contact, including with young children, for months or over a year.
Others said their families, when they do manage to get in touch, have been instructed by authorities to press them to return to Xinjiang, or to obtain detailed information about their lives abroad.
As a result, many ethnic Kazakhs and Uyghurs abroad live with fear and anxiety – particularly in countries where the governments have close relationships with Beijing – feeling that they are under the thumb of the Chinese government, despite being across a border or not even having Chinese citizenship.
The United Nations estimates as many as one million Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority, have been forced into internment camps to undergo political indoctrination and abuse.
China denies mass detention and political indoctrination, saying instead individuals were sent to vocational training centres to learn useful skills and save them from extremism.
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Author is working at National Industries Company, Kuwait