Xinjiang re-education camps
The Xinjiang re-education camps, officially known as Vocational Education and Training Centers (Chinese: 职业技能教育培训中心; pinyin: zhíyè jìnéng jiàoyù péixùn zhōngxīn) by the People's Republic of China, are internment camps that have been operated by the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regional government for the purpose of interning Uyghur Muslims since 2014. They have significantly intensified since a hardline party secretary, Chen Quanguo, took charge of the region in August 2016. These camps are reportedly operated outside of the legal system; many Uyghurs have been interned without trial and no charges have been levied against them. Local authorities are reportedly holding hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and Muslims from other ethnic minorities in these camps, for the stated purpose of countering extremism and terrorism.
|Vocational Education and Training Centers|
|Internment camps, indoctrination camps, re-education camps|
Opening ceremony of a re-education camp in Lopnur County, Xinjiang
|Other names||Xinjiang re-education camps|
|Operated by||Xinjiang local Party committee and government|
|Operational||Since 2014 (part of the "Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism")|
Expanded in 2016 (under party secretary Chen Quanguo)
|Number of inmates||Up to 1.5 million (Zenz 2019 estimate)|
1 million – 3 million (Schriver estimate)
|Vocational Education and Training Centers|
|Uyghur||قايتا تەربىيەلەش لاگېرلىرى|
As of 2018, it is estimated that the Chinese authorities may have detained hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million, of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui (Muslims) and other ethnic Turkic Muslims, Christians as well as some foreign citizens such as Kazakhstanis, who are kept in these secretive internment camps throughout the region. In May 2018, Randall Schriver of the United States Department of Defense claimed that "at least a million but likely closer to three million citizens" were imprisoned in detention centers in a strong condemnation of the "concentration camps". In August 2018, a United Nations human rights panel said that it had received many credible reports that 1 million ethnic Uyghurs in China have been held in "re-education camps".
In July 2019, the United Nations ambassadors from 22 nations, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom, signed a letter condemning China's mass detention of the Uyghurs and other minority groups, urging the Chinese government to close the camps. Algeria, Congo, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, Egypt, Nigeria, the Philippines and Sudan are among 37 other states which signed a counter-letter supporting China's policy in Xinjiang.
- 1 History
- 2 Camp facilities
- 3 Camp detainees
- 4 International reactions
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Antireligious campaigns in ChinaEdit
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Before Chen QuanguoEdit
Both prior to and until shortly after the July 2009 Ürümqi riots, Wang Lequan was the Party secretary for the Xinjiang region, effectively the highest subnational role; roughly equivalent to a governor in a Western province or state. Wang worked on modernization programs in Xinjiang, including industrialization, development of commerce, roads, railways, hydrocarbon development and pipelines with neighboring Kazakhstan to eastern China. On the other hand, Wang constrained local culture and religion, replaced the Uyghur language with Standard Mandarin as the medium of education in primary schools, and penalized or banned among government workers (in a region in which the government was a very large employer), the wearing of beards and headscarves, fasting and praying while on the job.
In April 2010, after the Ürümqi riots, Zhang Chunxian replaced Wang Lequan as the Communist Party chief. Zhang Chunxian continued and strengthened Wang's repressive policies. In 2011, Zhang proposed "modern culture [to the exclusion of Uyghur tradition] leads the development in Xinjiang" as his policy statement and started to implement his modern culture propaganda. In 2012, he first mentioned the phrase "de-extremification" (Chinese: 去极端化) campaigns and started to educate "wild Imams" (野阿訇) and extremists (极端主义者). In 2014, Chinese authorities announced a "People's war on terror" and local government introduced new restrictions and banned "abnormal" long beards, the wearing of veils in public places and naming of children to exaggerate religious fervor (including names such as Muhammad or Fatimah) as a campaign against terrorism and extremism.
Chen Quanguo and the Xinjiang police stateEdit
In August 2016, Chen Quanguo, a well-known hardline Communist Party leader in Tibet, took charge of the Xinjiang autonomous region. Chen was branded as responsible for a major component of Tibet's "subjugation" by critics.
Following Chen's arrival, local authorities recruited over 90,000 police officers in 2016 and 2017 – twice as many as they recruited in the past seven years, and laid out as many as 7300 heavily guarded check points in the region. The province has come to be known as one of the most heavily policed regions of the world. Gradually the concept of "transformation through education" started to expose and came to be systematically used with the "de-extremification" campaigns. International media have labelled the current regime in Xinjiang as "the most extensive police state in the world".
Local media have reported on these facilities and generally referred them as "counter-extremism training centers" (去极端化培训班) and "education and transformation training centers" (教育转化培训中心). Most of those facilities are converted from existing schools or other official buildings, although some are specifically built for "reeducation" purposes.
The heavily policed region and thousands of check points assisted and accelerated the detainment of locals to the camps. In 2017 the region constituted 21% of all arrests in China despite comprising less than 2% of the national population, eight times more than previous year. The judicial and other government bureaus of many cities and counties started to release a series of procurement and construction bids for those planned camps and facilities. Increasingly, massive detention centers were built up throughout the region and are being used to hold hundreds of thousands of people targeted for their religious practices and ethnicity.
According to political economist Victor Shih of the University of California, San Diego, the mass internments were totally unnecessary—no proportional active insurgency existed. He points out that a great deal of money was spent setting up the various camps, and that the money likely went to associates of the politicians who created the camps.
In urban areas, most of the camps are converted from existing vocational schools, communist party schools, ordinary schools or other official buildings, while in suburban or rural areas the majority of camps were specially built for the purposes of re-education. These camps are guarded by armed forces or special police and equipped with prison-like gates, surrounding walls, security fences, surveillance systems, watchtowers, guard rooms and facilities for armed police etc.
In November and December 2018, the magazine Bitter Winter released three videos it claimed had been shot inside two camps in the Yining area. The videos show jail-like features and the magazine claimed they proved that the camps are detention facilities rather than "schools". According to Business Insider, the second "Bitter Winter’s video... matches the descriptions of former detainees and witnesses of other detention facilities in Xinjiang."
While there is no public, verifiable data for the number of camps, there have been various attempts to document suspected camps based on satellite imagery and government documents. On 15 May 2017, Jamestown Foundation, a Washington, D.C. based institute, released a list of 73 government bids related to re-education facilities. On 1 November 2018, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's (ASPI) International Cyber Policy Centre (ICPC) reported on suspected camps in 28 locations. On 29 November 2018, Reuters and Earthrise Media reported 39 suspected camps.
Many media reports said that hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, as well as Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other ethnic minorities, are being detained without trial in "re-education camps" in the province. In January 2018, China Digital Times reported that an estimated 120,000 members of the Uyghurs are currently being held in political re-education camps in Kashgar prefecture alone.
Uyghur politician Rebiya Kadeer, who has been in exile since 2005, has had as many as 30 relatives detained or disappeared, including her sisters, brothers, children, grandchildren, and siblings. It is unclear when they were taken away.
On 13 July 2018, Sayragul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh Chinese national and former employee of the Chinese state, appeared in a court in the city of Zharkent, Kazakhstan for being accused of illegally crossing the border between the two countries. During the trial she talked about her forced work at a re-education camp for 2,500 ethnic Kazakhs. Her lawyer believed that if she is extradited to China, she would face the death penalty for exposing re-education camps in Kazakh court. Her testimony for the re-education camps have become the focus of a court case in Kazakhstan, which is also testing the country's ties with Beijing. On 1 August 2018, Sayragul Sauytbay, who fled one of the Chinese re-education camps, was released with a six-month suspended sentence and direction to regularly check in with police. She has applied for asylum in Kazakhstan and will not be deported to China.
Gene Bunin created the Xinjiang Victims Database to collect public testimonies on people detained in the camps. Each page lists basic demographic information including dates and suspected cause of detention, location, in addition to supplementary videos, photos and documents.
Writing in the Journal of Political Risk in July 2019, independent researcher Adrian Zenz estimated the upper speculative limit to the number of people detained in Xinjiang re-education camps at 1.5 million.
In January 2018, Abdurahman Hasan, a Uyghur businessman from Kashgar, was interviewed by BBC News in Turkey and asked the Chinese government to shoot his 68-year-old mother and 22-year-old wife after learning of the inhuman torture conducted in one of the camps in Kashgar. Kayrat Samarkand, a Kazakh citizen who migrated from Xinjiang, was detained in one of the "re-education camps" in the region for three months for visiting neighboring Kazakhstan. On 15 February 2018, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the same day as Kayrat Samarkand was freed from custody. After his release, Samarkand shared his distressing experience and claimed that he faced endless brainwashing and humiliation, and that he was forced to study communist propaganda for hours every day and chant slogans giving thanks and wishing for a long life to Xi Jinping, current General Secretary of the Communist Party of China.
Mihrigul Tursun, an Uyghur woman detained in China, after escaping one of these camps, described details of torture and beatings. Educated in Egypt, Tursun had traveled to China in 2015 to spend time with her family and was immediately detained and separated from her infant children. When Tursun was released three months later, one of the triplets had died and the other two had developed health problems. Tursun said the children had been operated on. She was arrested for a second time about two years later. Several months later, she was detained a third time and spent three months in a cramped, suffocating prison cell with 60 other women, having to sleep in turns, use the toilet in front of security cameras and sing songs praising China’s Communist Party.
Tursun said she and other inmates were forced to take unknown medication, including pills that made them faint and a white liquid that caused bleeding in some women and loss of menstruation in others. Tursun said nine women from her cell died during her three months there. One day, Tursun recalled, she was led into a room and placed in a high chair, and her legs and arms were locked in place. "The authorities put a helmet-like thing on my head, and each time I was electrocuted, my whole body would shake violently and I would feel the pain in my veins," Tursun said in a statement read by a translator. "I don’t remember the rest. White foam came out of my mouth, and I began to lose consciousness," Tursun said. "The last word I heard them saying is that you being an Uyghur is a crime." She was eventually released so that she could take her children to Egypt, but she was ordered to return to China. Once in Cairo, Tursun contacted U.S. authorities and, in September, came to the United States and settled in Virginia.
The authorities attempt to indoctrinate people in settings that resemble military prisons. Detainees endure physical and mental torture to suppress dissident religious beliefs and separatist movements. Former inmates claim that they are "forced to study communist propaganda for hours and give thanks to the general secretary (paramount leader) by chanting 'Long live Xi Jinping'", as well as learn to sing the national anthem of China and communist songs. Punishments, like being placed in handcuffs for hours, waterboarding, or being strapped to "tiger chair" (a metal contraption) for long periods of time, are used on those who fail to follow.
According to detainees, they were also forced to drink alcohol and eat pork, which are forbidden in Islam. Some detainees receive unknown medicines and others attempted suicide. The side effects of those treatments can be very serious, sometimes even causing scholars like Muhammad Salih Haji's, Dolkun Isa's mother Ayhan Memet's and other people to die in these facilities. Escaped detainees have reported widespread sexual torture, including forced abortions, forced use of contraceptive devices, and rape. Rushan Abbas of the Campaign for Uyghurs claims that the actions of the Chinese government amount to genocide by United Nations definitions as laid out at the Genocide Convention.
Reactions by country in the UNHRCEdit
In July 2019, 22 countries including United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Canada, Japan and Australia signed a joint letter to the UN Human Rights Council urging China to close the camps in Xinjiang. In reaction to this, at least 38 countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Sudan, Iran, Angola, Algeria, Nigeria, DRC, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela, Philippines, Myanmar, Pakistan and Syria have signed a joint letter to the UNHRC praising China's "remarkable achievements in Xinjiang." Chinese press later claimed that 50 total countries signed the letter.
- Signed the letter criticizing China
- Signed the letter supportive of China
- Burkina Faso
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- North Korea
- Saudi Arabia
- South Sudan
- United Arab Emirates
- Signed the letter supportive of China but later withdrew support
Other reactions by countryEdit
- In November 2017, Kazakhstan's Ambassador to China Shahrat Nuryshev met with Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Li Huilai regarding Kazakh diaspora issues.
- On 15 February 2018, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the same day Samarkand, a Kazakhstan citizen, was released from re-education camp. From 17 to 19 April, Kazakh First Deputy Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi visited Xinjiang to meet with local officials.
- In February 2019, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman defended camps, saying "China has the right to carry out anti-terrorism and de-extremisation work for its national security."
- Saudi Arabia is one of the countries which signed a letter praising China's "remarkable achievements in Xinjiang."
- In February 2019, the Spokesperson for the Turkish Foreign Ministry denounced China for "violating the fundamental human rights of Uyghur Turks and other Muslim communities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region."
- In July 2019, when Turkish President Erdoğan visited China, he said “It is a fact that the people of all ethnicities in Xinjiang are leading a happy life amid China's development and prosperity.” Erdogan also said that some people were seeking to "abuse" the Xinjiang crisis to jeopardize Turkey and China's economic relationship.
- On 3 July 2018, at UK Parliamentary roundtable, the Rights Practice helped to organise a Parliamentary Round-table on increased repression and forced assimilation in Xinjiang. Rahima Mahmut, an Uyghur singer and human rights activist, gave a personal testimony about the violations suffered by the Uyghur community. Dr. Adrian Zenz, European School of Culture and Theology, (Germany), outlined the evidence of a large scale and sophisticated political re-education network designed to detain people for long periods of time and which the Chinese government officially denies.
- On 3 April 2018, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Chris Smith sent a letter urging Ambassador to China Terry Branstad to launch an investigation into the reported mass detention of Uyghurs in political re-education camps in Xinjiang.
- On 26 July 2018, Vice President of the United States Mike Pence raised the re-education camps issue at Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. He said that "Sadly, as we speak as well, Beijing is holding hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, of Uyghur Muslims in so-called 're-education camps', where they're forced to endure around-the-clock political indoctrination and to denounce their religious beliefs and their cultural identity as the goal."
- On 26 July 2018, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), an independent agency of the U.S. government which monitors human rights and rule of law developments in the People's Republic of China, released a report that said as many as a million people are or have been detained in what are being called "political re-education" centers, the largest mass incarceration of an ethnic minority population in the world today. On 27 July 2018, The U.S. Embassy & Consulate in China released Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom Statement on China, which mentioned the detention of hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, of Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in "political re-education camps", and called the Chinese government to release immediately all those arbitrarily detained.
- On 28 August 2018, U.S. senator Marco Rubio and 16 other members of Congress urged the United States to impose sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act against Chinese officials who are responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang. In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, they called for the sanctions on Chen Quanguo who is the current Communist Party Secretary of the Xinjiang (the highest post in an administrative unit of China) and six other Chinese officials and two businesses that make surveillance equipment in Xinjiang.
- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for his refusal to condemn the Chinese government’s repressions against the Uyghurs.
- On 11 September 2019, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act.
- On 11 September 2018, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, raised the re-education camps issue in European Parliament. She said:
The most outstanding disagreement we have with China concerns the human rights situation in China, as underlined in your Report. We also focused on the situation in Xinjiang, especially the expansion of political re-education camps. And we discussed the detention of human rights defenders, including particular cases.
- On 1 March 2019, Organization for Islamic Cooperation has produced a document which “commends the efforts of the People’s Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens.”
- On 21 May 2018, during the resumed session of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations in UN, Kelley Currie, the U.S. representative to the U.N. for economic and social affairs, raised the mass detention of Uyghurs in re-education camps, and she said that "reports of mass incarcerations in the Xinjiang were documented by looking at Chinese procurement requests on Chinese websites requesting Chinese companies to tender offers to build political re-education camps".
- On 10 August 2018, United Nations human rights experts expressed alarm over many credible reports that China had detained a million or more ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Gay McDougall, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, said that "In the name of combating religious extremism, China had turned Xinjiang into something resembling a massive internment camp, shrouded in secrecy, a sort of no-rights zone".
- On 10 September 2018, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on China to ease restrictions on her and her office's team, urging China to allow observers into Xinjiang and expressing concern about the situation there. She said, "The UN rights group had shown that Uyghurs and other Muslims are being detained in camps across Xinjiang and I expect discussions with Chinese officials to begin soon".
Human Rights OrganisationsEdit
- On 10 September 2017, Human Rights Watch released a report that said "The Chinese government should immediately free people held in unlawful 'political education' centers in Xinjiang and shut them down."
- On 9 September 2018, Human Rights Watch released a 117-page report, "'Eradicating Ideological Viruses': China's Campaign of Repression Against Xinjiang's Muslims", which accused China of the systematic mass detention of tens of thousands of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims in political re-education camps without being charged or tried and presented new evidence of the Chinese government's mass arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment, and the increasingly pervasive controls on daily life. The report also urged foreign governments to pursue a range of multilateral and unilateral actions against China for its actions, including "targeted sanctions" against those responsible.
In a July 2018 article, the Foreign Policy reported:
No Muslim nation’s head of state has made a public statement in support of the Uighurs this decade. Politicians and many religious leaders who claim to speak for the faith are silent in the face of China’s political and economic power...Many Muslim governments have strengthened their relationship with China or even gone out of their way to support China’s persecution.
In 2019, The Art Newspaper reported that "hundreds" of writers, artists, and academics had been imprisoned, in what the magazine qualified as an attempt to "punish any form of religious or cultural expression" among Uyghurs. Additionally, The Washington Post published an article about the camps used by China to persecute Uyghurs and make them a minority in their ancestral homeland, the same way China did against Tibetans in Tibet.
Vox Media, The Washington Post, The Daily Telegraph and Dolkun Isa have referred to these camps as concentration camps. The Washington Post editorial board further referred to the camps as part of a "mass ethnic cleansing."
Chinese government responseEdit
When international media asked about the re-education camps, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it "had not heard" of this situation.
On 12 August 2018, a Chinese state-run tabloid, Global Times, defended the crackdown in Xinjiang after a U.N. anti-discrimination committee raised concerns over China's treatment of Uyghurs. According to the Global Times, China prevented Xinjiang from becoming 'China's Syria' or 'China's Libya', and local authorities' policies saved countless lives and avoided a 'great tragedy'. The paper published another editorial the day after, titled "Xinjiang policies justified".
On 13 August 2018, at a UN meeting in Geneva, the delegation from China told the UN human rights committee that "There is no such thing as re-education centers in Xinjiang and it is completely untrue that China put 1 million Uyghurs into re-education camps". A Chinese delegation said that "Xinjiang citizens, including the Uyghurs, enjoy equal freedom and rights." They claimed that "Some minor offenders of religious extremism or separatism have been taken to 'vocational education' and employment training centers with a view to assisting in their rehabilitation".
On 14 August 2018, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said "anti-China forces had made false accusations against China for political purposes and a few foreign media outlets misrepresented the committee's discussions and were smearing China's anti-terror and crime-fighting measures in Xinjiang" after a U.N. human rights committee raised concern over reported mass detentions of ethnic Uyghurs.
On 21 August 2018, Liu Xiaoming, the Ambassador of China to the United Kingdom, wrote an article in response to a Financial Times report entitled "Crackdown in Xinjiang: Where have all the people gone?". Liu's response said: "The education and training measures taken by the local government of Xinjiang have not only effectively prevented the infiltration of religious extremism and helped those lost in extremist ideas to find their way back, but also provided them with employment training in order to build a better life."
On 10 September 2018, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang condemned a report about the re-education camps issued by Human Rights Watch. He said: "This organisation has always been full of prejudice and distorting facts about China." Geng also added that: "Xinjiang is enjoying overall social stability, sound economic development and harmonious co-existence of different ethnic groups. The series of measures implemented in Xinjiang are meant to improve stability, development, solidarity and people’s livelihood, crack down on ethnic separatist activities and violent and terrorist crimes, safeguard national security, and protect people’s life and property."
On 11 September 2018, China called for U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to "respect its sovereignty", after she urged China to allow monitors into Xinjiang and expressed concern about the situation there. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: "China urges the U.N. human rights high commissioner and office to scrupulously abide by the mission and principles of the U.N. charter, respect China's sovereignty, fairly and objectively carry out its duties, and not listen to one-sided information".
In March 2019, against the background of the US considering imposing sanctions against Chen Quanguo, who is the region's most senior Communist Party official, Xinjiang governor Shohrat Zakir denied the existence of the camps.
On 18 March 2019, the Chinese government released a white paper about the counter-terrorism, de-radicalization in Xinjiang. The white paper claims "A country under the rule of law, China respects and protects human rights in accordance with the principles of its Constitution." The white paper also claims Xinjiang has not had violent terrorist cases for more than two consecutive years, extremist penetration has been effectively curbed, and social security has improved significantly.
In July 2019, the Chinese government released another white paper that claims "The Uygur people adopted Islam not of their own volition … but had it forced upon them by religious wars and the ruling class." A Global Times article on 31 July claimed that the re-education camps employed "the advanced version of normal social govern" and said the process is "the victory of all the Chinese people including Xinjiang people".
Response from exiled dissidentsEdit
On 10 August 2018, about 47 Chinese intellectuals and others, in exile, issued an appeal against what they describe as "shocking human rights atrocities perpetrated in Xinjiang".
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