Posts Tagged ‘re-education camps’

Germany calls for China transparency over Uighur Muslims

November 12, 2018

Despite warnings from China that Germany should not interfere in its internal affairs, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called on Beijing to be transparent about the human rights conflict surrounding the Uighur Muslims.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas meets with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in Beijing

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas began his visit to China on Monday by calling for more transparency from the Chinese government regarding the human rights conflict surrounding reports about the mass detention of a million Uighur Muslims.

UN experts have said there are credible reports that as many as a million Uighurs, ethnically Turkic Muslims which reside in western China, have been interned in camps in the last year.

“We cannot accept re-education camps,” Maas said after meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in Beijing, adding that more information was needed to assess the situation.

On Monday, Maas said his talks with Vice Premier Liu were “free of controversy” and that all sides had an interest in matters being transparent. When asked if human rights organizations should enter the camps, the German minister said: “At first, it is of secondary importance who ensures transparency.”

Bundestag condemnation

Last Thursday, members of Germany’s Bundestag condemned the Chinese government for its treatment of the Uighur population, accusing Beijing of violating human rights.

In a motion, the Greens party called on the German government to demand that Beijing grant independent observers and journalists access to the Xinjiang region.

The discussion in the Bundestag prompted a fierce response from China. The Chinese Embassy in Berlin said that Beijing was “extremely dissatisfied” and accused the Bundestag of “blatant interference in internal affairs and a gross violation of China’s sovereignty.”

People of the Uighur community in XinjiangPeople of the Uighur community in Xinjiang

“Xinjiang belongs to the territory of the People’s Republic of China, and issues concerning Xinjiang fall within China’s jurisdictions and internal affairs,” a statement published last Friday by the Embassy read.

China has said the camps are “training centers” to equip people with employable skill to help combat Islamist extremism in the still bloodied Xinjiang province. However, rights activists say the centers are political indoctrination camps where Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities are taught Communist propaganda and forced to renounce their religion.

Two-day visit

The minister also said that issues relating to arms control and disarmament should be the subject of multilateral agreements, especially in the case of new weapons systems. “We want to talk to China about this,” the ministry said via Twitter:



Foreign Minister @HeikoMaas on Coal Hill in Beijing: Issues relating to control and should be the subject of multilateral agreements. Especially in the case of new weapons systems. We want to talk to China about this.

See GermanForeignOffice’s other Tweets

Germany wants to expand bilateral consultations between Germany and China, on cooperation at the UN among other issues. Before he left Germany, Maas had said “China is more than just our most important trading partner in Asia,” and needed a strong relationship to tackle issues such as security and climate change.

Maas also stressed that Berlin and Beijing had a common interest in ending trade disputes.

China was Germany’s most important trade partner in 2017 with a trade volume of over €186 billion ($209 billion).

The minister was also to meet with economy officials and with Yang Jiechi, the director of China’s foreign affairs office, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as part of his two-day visit.

dv/jm (AFP, dpa)


Nations Applaud China’s Human Rights Record — Global criticism of China on human rights muted due to influence, money

November 9, 2018

China’s government is cracking down on dissent at an alarming pace and detaining up to 1 million Muslims in “re-education camps,” but at a UN Human Rights Council review this week, many countries saw fit to applaud China’s human rights record, rather than criticize it.

Why it matters: China’s economic power and investments around the world aren’t just increasing its global influence — they’re making countries far more reticent to speak out about Beijing’s abuses at home. Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, tells me, “We might be moving onto the next bad phase where we not only see how few countries are critical of China, but how many are willing to be cheerleaders.”

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Case in point: Pakistan and Kazakhstan have both been directly affected by China’s mass detentions in Xinjiang province, with citizens or family members from both countries being held. Both are also heavily reliant on Chinese investment and trade. Neither criticized China at this week’s review, the first since 2013, which featured comments from 150 countries.

  • Countries that did speak out included Japan, Germany and the U.S., which called on China to close the internment camps and free the “possibly millions” being held.
  • China’s Vice Foreign Minister responded to the criticism: “We will not accept the politically driven accusations from a few countries that are fraught with biases, with total disregard for facts. No country shall dictate the definition of democracy and human rights.”
FILE - A police officer checks the identity card of a man as security forces keep watch in a street in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 24, 2017.

FILE – A police officer checks the identity card of a man as security forces keep watch in a street in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 24, 2017.

Richardson notes that Muslim countries were notably silent on the treatment of China’s Muslim minority. She put it this way:

“If any other government in the world was credibly accused of detaining 1 million Muslims, I think we can reasonably conclude there would be calls for a debate in the UN Security Council. Demands for an investigation. Because China is so powerful both within and outside of the UN, that’s probably not going to happen. The net effect is that China may well get away with this.”

FILE - In this July 7, 2009 photo, a Uigher woman demands the return of members from her community before a group of paramilitary police officers when journalists visited the area in Urumqi in western China's Xinjiang province.

FILE – In this July 7, 2009 photo, a Uigher woman demands the return of members from her community before a group of paramilitary police officers when journalists visited the area in Urumqi in western China’s Xinjiang province.

Brookings’ Ted Piccone documents China’s success in limiting criticism in international institutions in a recent report:

  • Beijing is “building a strong coalition within the UN, mainly of developing countries more vulnerable to Beijing’s economic and political pressure and which share its wish to prioritize development over human rights.”
  • “European states, however, are not doing as much as they could to stand up against China on human rights. Explanations include protection of their growing economic and commercial interests with the Asian giant as well as geostrategic and political goals in managing China’s rise.”

The bottom line: “It’s not just that the tone of the discussion is getting softer, or that the topics under discussion are softer, it’s that the institutions themselves are under threat from China,” says Richardson. “If you can’t have a conversation about what’s happening in Xinjiang [at the UN], you’re not going to have that conversation anywhere.”

See also:

Who Are the Uighurs?

China faces grilling over internment camps at UN review

November 4, 2018

China will be grilled over its mass detainment of Uighur minorities during a UN human rights review on Tuesday, with Washington leading demands for Beijing to come clean on how many people are held in a sprawling network of camps.

As many as one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are being kept in extra-judicial detention in China’s fractious far western Xinjiang region, according to estimates cited by a UN panel.

The centres where they are thought to be detained have come under increasing scrutiny this year, with rights activists describing them as political re-education camps.

© AFP/File | Rights activists say members of China’s Muslim minorities are held involuntarily for transgressions such as wearing long beards

They say members of China’s Muslim minorities are held involuntarily for transgressions such as wearing long beards and face veils.

“The Human Rights Council must send an unequivocal message to the Chinese government that their campaign of systematic repression in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, including the arbitrary detention of up to one million people, must end,” said Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International.

The US and Germany have requested UN access to Xinjiang and Tibet to investigate allegations of mass detention and restrictions on religious freedoms.



All 193 United Nations member states must undergo a periodic review by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

China will present a report on its domestic human rights situation and on changes made since its last report in 2013, while diplomats from around the world will have the opportunity to ask questions — some of which have already been submitted.

One question by the US — which is leading demands for Beijing to come clean on the crackdown — says: “Can China clarify the basis for its apparent criminalization of peaceful religious practices as justification to detain people in these political ‘re-education’ camps in Xinjiang, as well as which officials are responsible for this policy?”

Washington also wants Beijing to provide “the number of people involuntarily held in all detention facilities in Xinjiang during the past five years”.

Britain has asked when China will implement a UN racial discrimination panel’s recommendation that it “halt the practice of detaining individuals who have not been lawfully charged, tried, and convicted for a criminal offence in any extra-legal detention facilities”.

The US and Germany have requested UN access to Xinjiang and Tibet to investigate allegations of mass detention and restrictions on religious freedoms.

– ‘Like a prison’ –

Beijing previously denied the existence of such camps, but now defends them as “vocational education and training centres” where happy students study Mandarin, brush up on job skills, and pursue hobbies such as sports and folk dance.

Chinese officials say the facilities are part of efforts to combat terrorism, religious extremism and separatism in Xinjiang following unrest that left hundreds dead in recent years.

But an AFP investigation published in October showed that local authorities had bought gear for the centres including police batons, electric cattle prods, handcuffs, pepper spray, stun guns and razor wire.

The centres should “teach like a school, be managed like the military, and be defended like a prison”, said one official document, quoting Xinjiang’s party secretary Chen Quanguo.

“The Chinese government owes some answers to international questions about Xinjiang,” Maya Wang, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, told AFP.

The UN human rights review is a chance for countries to “focus their firepower on Xinjiang”, though its effectiveness will depend on “whether or not there is commitment from the states to push for accountability,” she added.

China will send a vice minister of foreign affairs, Le Yucheng, to head the delegation to the UN. Officials from Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau will also attend the review.

“China is willing to carry out constructive dialogue with all sides in an open and honest spirit,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters on Friday.

-‘Double standards’-

Beyond Xinjiang, China will also come under scrutiny for other aspects of its human rights record.

Since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012, the Chinese government has cracked down on civil liberties and religious freedoms while ramping up digital surveillance.

In July 2017, dissident activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer while under police custody.

In 2015, more than 200 Chinese human rights lawyers and activists were detained or questioned in a sweep known as the “709” crackdown.

That year also saw five Hong Kong-based booksellers known for publishing gossipy titles about Chinese political leaders disappear, before they resurfaced in mainland China.

“China opposes human rights politicization and ‘double standards,’ and upholds international fairness and justice,” China said in a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council for the review.

“No country’s human rights situation is perfect. China still faces many difficulties and challenges in promoting and protecting human rights,” it said.


China Demands U.S. Withdraw Sanctions Imposed Over Military Purchases From Russia

September 23, 2018

WASHINGTON — Chinese officials have summoned the United States ambassador in Beijing to denounce the United States for imposing economic sanctions this past week on a Chinese military organization for buying equipment from Russia, according to Chinese state news reports on Saturday.

The Chinese military also recalled a Chinese naval commander, Shen Jinlong, who was in the United States attending a naval conference, and it postponed a September meeting on joint staff communications between the two nations.

The United States ambassador to Beijing, Terry Branstad, with President Xi Jinping of China last year. Beijing is said to have summoned the ambassador to protest economic sanctions imposed by the United States.  Credit Lintao Zhang/Reuters

The moves are aimed at pressuring the United States to withdraw the sanctions. The sanctions are “a flagrant breach of basic rules of international relations” and “a stark show of hegemonism,” said Wu Qian, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, according to the state news agency Xinhua.

The diplomatic dispute adds to rising tensions between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies.

By Edward Wong
The New York Times

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Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Wu Qian [File photo]

Foreign Ministry officials raised objections to the United States ambassador, Terry Branstad, according to People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper.

The State Department confirmed on Saturday that Mr. Branstad met with Chinese officials, but declined to comment further.

On Thursday, the State Department said that it was imposing sanctions on the Equipment Development Department of the Chinese Central Military Commission and its top official for “engaging in significant transactions” with a group in the Russian defense sector that is on a list of blacklisted entities.

The transactions involved the purchase of Russian Su-35 combat aircraft and equipment related to the S-400 surface-to-air missile system, the State Department said.

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Russian Su-35

The Chinese received the aircraft in December 2017 and an initial batch of the missile equipment in 2018, the department said. Both were the result of deals negotiated before August 2017 between the Chinese military organization and Rosoboronexport, a state organization that is the main arms exporter of Russia.

Such military cooperation between the countries was normal, and in line with international law, said Mr. Wu, the military spokesman, according to the Xinhua report.

The State Department said it was imposing the sanctions against Russian and Chinese officials for violating a law enacted by the American government last year to punish Iran, North Korea and Russia for what American officials called hostile behavior. In the case of Russia, the act is intended to punish its military actions in Ukraine and Syria and cyberinterference in the American presidential election of 2016, among other things.

Tensions between the United States and China have escalated over a trade war that President Trump and his economic advisers started over the summer. Mr. Trump announced tariffs last week on an additional $200 billion worth of goods from China, prompting China to retaliate by promising to impose similar tariffs on $60 billion worth of goods from the United States. China also canceled trade talks that had been scheduled for this week in Washington.

Relations between the countries have grown strained on other fronts. Trump administration officials have scolded China for not doing enough to pressure North Korea over its nuclear program; criticized what they call Chinese military expansionism in the Pacific and Indian Oceans; and are weighing sanctions against Chinese officials for the repression of ethnic Uighurs in the region of Xinjiang, where up to one million Uighurs are being detained in re-education camps.

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Uighur children

As well, American officials are anxious about Chinese influence in Latin America. This month, the State Department recalled its three chiefs of mission in Panama, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador as a rebuke to those nations, which recently chose to drop diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in favor of recognizing China. The United States has recognized China since 1979, but wants the handful of small countries that recognize Taiwan to continue doing so as a hedge against Chinese power.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: Beijing Denounces U.S. Sanctions Over Russian Deals

Canada should break silence on Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs

September 14, 2018
It will come as news to nobody that the Communist regime in Beijing lies through its teeth about the state of human rights in China, but nothing comes close to the lies Beijing tells to cover up its mounting persecution of Muslims. Those lies have been getting harder to tell, ever since Xi Jinping’s police state embarked upon measures so extreme and tyrannical that it’s become harder for the regime to keep the truth from getting to the outside world.
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An in-depth Human Rights Watch investigation published on Monday found that in the far western expanses of Xinjiang, a region nearly as big as Canada’s prairie provinces, “the government’s religious restrictions are so stringent that it has effectively outlawed Islam.” Last month, the head of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination told a UN human rights panel in Geneva that Xinjiang’s Uighur autonomous region has been turned into “a massive internment camp.”

Hundreds of thousands of Uighurs , perhaps a million people in all, have been detained for weeks and sometimes months at a time in a network of indoctrination camps. At first, the Chinese government denied that the camps even existed. But as evidence has mounted – eyewitness accounts, the Chinese government’s own documents, satellite photographs, construction blueprints – the party line has changed.

Chinese officials are now describing the camps as “vocational education facilities,” training centres and residential schools where petty criminals are housed while undergoing“rehabilitation and reintegration.” Former inmates who have managed to escape China describe the camps as hellholes of torture and forced labour. Internees are required to learn Mandarin, sing patriotic songs, memorize government propaganda and recite florid loyalty oaths.

Xinjiang’s Uighurs, Tajiks and Kazakhs have tended to see themselves as peoples apart from the Han Chinese cultural hegemony that the Communist regime has imposed in the region in recent years. Separatist sentiment has waxed and waned, and radical Islam has occasionally found a place for itself in the region. The Communist Party line is that extraordinary measures have been necessary to eradicate “ideological diseases” in the region, particularly among the 10 million Uihgurs. Devout Muslims are classified as mentally ill.

In Xinjiang’s towns and cities, population movements are closely controlled. Surveillance is ubiquitous. The Communist administration is employing biometric data, experimental voice-recognition and facial-recognition technology, house arrest, DNA data banks and digital tracking to closely monitor and control the public. Cameras are everywhere. Travel is severely restricted. Over the past two years, hundreds of thousands of special police have been deployed to newly-built stations and temporary checkpoints.

As grim as all this is, the gross human rights abuses in Xinjiang are at least beginning to emerge as subjects of closer global scrutiny. On Monday, in an unusual move, Michelle Bachelet, in her first speech as the UN’s new High Commissioner for Human Rights, singled out Beijing’s mistreatment of Xinjiang’s Uighurs for special notice. The former Chilean president specifically referred to “deeply disturbing allegations of large-scale arbitrary detentions of Uighurs and other Muslim communities in so-called re-education camps across Xinjiang”.

Bachelet called on Beijing to reverse its closed-door policy and allow the UN Human Rights office complete access to Xinjiang and all other regions of China. That would be a good start.

In Washington, meanwhile, a bipartisan initiative in Congress has begun to push the Trump White House to “swiftly act” and trigger the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to sanction Chinese government officials and entities directly complicit in the Xinjiang abuses. On Monday, the Australian opposition Labour Party followed suit, calling on Canberra to draw up a similar list for sanctions. A petition drawn up by a group of Australian imams asking parliament to start ramping up pressure on Beijing managed to gather 10,000 signatures.

Canada, predictably, has been quiet, even though Ottawa could have been out in front inholding Beijing to account for its cruelties in Xinjiang. It’s been 12 years since the Canadian Uighur Huseyin Celil, who fled China as a refugee in 2001, was arrested while visiting family in Uzbekistan. Celil was extradited to China and chucked into prison, and in 2012 Celil was given a life sentence without a proper trial on trumped up terror charges. Celil’s sentence was later reduced after being subjected to a “re-education” program.

Canada could make some use of itself taking the lead in backing UN human rights investigators’ efforts to gain access to Xinjiang, and and Ottawa’s own Magnitsky law would serve perfectly well in a collaboration with Australia and the United States to sanction the tormentors of Xinjiang’s Uighurs.

Canada has neither reason nor excuse not to do so.


China is not mistreating Muslims in Xinjiang — Just training courses — Like your children go to vocational training schools — Only with solitary confinement

September 14, 2018

China is not mistreating Muslims in Xinjiang province but is putting some people through training courses to avoid spreading of extremism, unlike Europe which had failed to deal with the problem, a Chinese official told reporters on Thursday.

Reports of mass detentions of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in China’s far-western region have prompted a growing international outcry, prompting the Trump administration to consider sanctions against officials and companies linked to the allegations of human rights abuses.

“It is not mistreatment,” said Li Xiaojun, director for publicity at the Bureau of Human Rights Affairs of the State Council Infor­mation Office. “What China is doing is to establish professional training centres, educational centres.

‘Religious extremists are common foes of mankind’

“If you do not say it’s the best way, maybe it’s the necessary way to deal with Islamic or religious extremism, because the West has failed in doing so, in dealing with religious extremism. Look at Belgium, look at Paris, look at some other European countries. You have failed.”

He said the Chinese education centres were not “detention centres or re-education camps”, which he dismissed as “the trademark product of eastern European countries”, an apparent reference to Soviet Gulag detention camps during the Cold War.

“To put it straight, it’s like vocational training… like your children go to vocational training schools to get better skills and better jobs after graduation.

“But these kinds of training and education centres only accept people for a short period of time; some people five days, some seven days, 10 days, one month, two months.”

Islam was a good thing in China’s view, but “Islamic extremists” were the common foes of mankind, he said. “They are very bad elements. You can see that in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Pakistan, in Iraq, and many other countries.”

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2018



China tries to brainwash Muslims in internment camps

Associated Press

Day after day, Omir Bekali and other detainees in far western China’s new indoctrination camps had to disavow their Islamic beliefs, criticise themselves and their loved ones and give thanks to the ruling Communist Party.

When Bekali, a Kazakh Muslim, refused, he was forced to stand at a wall for five hours at a time. A week later, he was sent to solitary confinement and deprived of food for 24 hours. After 20 days, he wanted to kill himself.

Omir Bekali talks about the psychological stress he endure in a Chinese internment camp during an interview in Almaty, Kazakhstan. — AP
Omir Bekali talks about the psychological stress he endure in a Chinese internment camp during an interview in Almaty, Kazakhstan. — AP

“The psychological pressure is enormous, when you have to criticise yourself, denounce your thinking your own ethnic group,” said Bekali, 42, who broke down in tears while describing the camp. “I still think about it every night, until the sun rises.”

Since last spring, Chinese authorities in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang have ensnared tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Muslim Chinese and even foreign citizens in mass internment camps.

This detention campaign has swept across Xinjiang, a territory half the area of India, leading to what a United States (US) commission on China last month said is “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today”.

The internment programme tries to rewire the political thinking of detainees, erase their Islamic beliefs and reshape their very identities. Chinese officials have largely avoided comment, but some have said in state media that ideological changes are needed to fight separatism and Islamic extremism. Radical Muslim Uighurs killed hundreds in China in years past.

Three other former internees and a former instructor in different centers corroborated Bekali’s depiction. Taken together, the recollections offer the most detailed account yet of life inside so-called re-education.

The programme is a hallmark of China’s emboldened state security apparatus under the deeply nationalistic, hard-line rule of President Xi Jinping. It is partly rooted in the ancient Chinese belief in transformation through education taken once before to terrifying extremes during the mass thought reform campaigns of Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader sometimes channelled by Xi.

“Cultural cleansing is Beijing’s attempt to find a final solution to the Xinjiang problem,” said James Millward, a China historian at Georgetown University.

The internment system is shrouded in secrecy, with no publicly available data. The US State Department estimates those being held are “at the very least in the tens of thousands”.

A Turkey-based TV station run by Xinjiang exiles said almost 900,000 were detained, citing leaked government documents. Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology, puts the number between several hundreds of thousands and just over one million, and government bids suggest construction is ongoing.

Asked to comment on the camps, China’s foreign ministry said it “had not heard” of the situation. Chinese officials in Xinjiang did not respond to requests for comment.

However, China’s top prosecutor, Zhang Jun, urged Xinjiang’s authorities this month to extensively expand what the government calls “transformation through education” in an “all-out effort” to fight extremism.

China-born Bekali moved to Kazakhstan in 2006 and received citizenship three years later.

Omir Bekali holds up a mobile phone showing a photo of his parents whom he believes have been detained in China. — AP
Omir Bekali holds up a mobile phone showing a photo of his parents whom he believes have been detained in China. — AP

On March 25 last year, Bekali visited his parents in Xinjiang. The next day, police took him away. They strapped him into a “tiger chair” that clamped down his wrists and ankles. They hung him by his wrists against a barred wall. They interrogated him about his work inviting Chinese to apply for Kazakh tourist visas.

“I haven’t committed any crimes!” Bekali yelled.

Seven months later, Bekali was taken out of his cell and handed a release paper. But he was not free.

Bekali was driven to a fenced compound in Karamay, where three buildings held more than 1,000 internees.

They would wake up together before dawn, sing the Chinese national anthem, and raise the Chinese flag at 7.30am. They sang songs praising the party and studied Chinese language and history. They were told that the indigenous sheep-herding Central Asian people of Xinjiang were backward before they were “liberated” by the Communist Party in the 1950s.

When they ate meals of vegetable soup and buns, they first had to chant: “Thank the Party! Thank the Motherland! Thank President Xi!”

Bekali was kept in a locked room almost around the clock with eight other internees, who shared beds and a wretched toilet. Cameras were installed in toilets and outhouses. Baths were rare, as was washing of hands and feet, equated with Islamic ablution.

In four-hour sessions, instructors lectured about the dangers of Islam and drilled internees with quizzes that they had to answer correctly or be sent to stand near a wall for hours on end.

“Do you obey Chinese law or Sharia?” instructors asked. “Do you understand why religion is dangerous?”

The detainees had to criticise and be criticised by their peers. One by one, they would also stand up before 60 classmates to present self-criticisms of their religious history.

“I was taught the Holy Quran by my father and I learned it because I didn’t know better,” Bekali heard one say.

“I travelled outside China without knowing that I could be exposed to extremist thoughts abroad,” another said. “Now I know.”

After a week, Bekali went to his first stint in solitary confinement. He yelled out to a visiting official.

“Take me in the back and kill me, or send me back to prison,” he shouted. “I can’t be here anymore.”

He was again hauled off to solitary confinement. It lasted 24 hours, ending late afternoon on Nov 24, when Bekali was suddenly released.

At first, Bekali did not want the AP to publish his account for fear his sister and mother in China would be detained.

But on March 10, the police took his sister, Adila Bekali. A week later, they took his mother, Amina Sadik. And on April 24, his father, Ebrayem.

Bekali changed his mind and said he wanted to tell his story.

China Has Detained Up to a Million Muslims

September 6, 2018

China’s efforts to quash what it says is separatism and religious extremism among its ethnic Muslim population have turned the far western region of Xinjiang into one of the world’s most heavily policed areas. Multiple accounts have emerged of secretive “re-education camps” that, according to a United Nations committee’s assessment, have detained tens of thousands to “upwards of 1 million” Uighurs. As its mosques are shuttered and travel across its borders restricted, Xinjiang — once at the intersection of ancient Silk Road trade routes — threatens to become a black hole in President Xi Jinping’s effort to build new ones. The international community is taking note, with U.S. lawmakers calling for sanctions.

Ethnic Muslim Uighurs in Kashgar, in the far western Xinjiang province.  Photographer: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

1. Who are the Uighurs?

The Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs) are a Turkic-speaking Chinese ethnic minority of mostly Sunni Muslims. They comprise some 10 million of the 22 million people who populate Alaska-sized Xinjiang. Uighurs have close ethnic and cultural ties to Central Asia and some refer to Xinjiang as East Turkestan.

2. What triggered China’s crackdown?

Maintaining its grip on far-off Xinjiang has long challenged China and its leaders say the campaign is subduing “separatist forces” that reject their rule and foment unrest. Violence in the region has spiked as Xi has vowed to resist attempts to split territory from China. Ethnic riots erupted in the capital Urumqi in 2009, killing almost 200 people. Police then connected Uighurs to an attack near Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 2013, in which a sports-utility vehicle rammed a crowd, killing two tourists. In 2014, police sentenced four people they said had “Uighur names” — three received the death penalty — after a terror attack in the city of Kunming. The spread of violence, rights groups say, intensified the crackdown on Uighurs’ speech, movement and culture.

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3. How is the government clamping down?

Through a widespread network of security cameras, police stations and checkpoints. Residents have been ordered to install satellite-tracking systems in their vehicles, submit to facial scans when entering markets or fuel stations and are generally forbidden from traveling abroad. Xinjiang, with just 1.5 percent of China’s population, last year accounted for one-fifth of all criminal arrests. The region is, as Bloomberg News reported, a test site for China’s powerful state surveillance apparatus, including new facial-recognition technology. The Associated Press says a culture of fear has been instilled: One major town had police depots every 500 meters (1,600 feet), with armed motorcades patrolling streets and checking phones for religious material.

4. How does China justify its campaign?

By calling it “counterterrorism.” Xi has ordered authorities to “strike first” against Islamist extremism, amid reports that as many as 5,000 Uighurs were fighting alongside terror groups in Syria. Beijing authorities have described the re-education camps as providing “vocational training,” according to the AP. A government spokesman said the UN estimates for detainees at the camps were based on “unverified and irresponsible information that has no factual basis at all.” The Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid run by the ruling Communist Party, asserted in an August editorial that authorities had helped salvage Xinjiang from turmoil and prevented it from becoming another Syria. “It has avoided the fate of becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or China’s Libya,”’ the paper said.

5. How is the world reacting?

The UN and European Union have expressed concern, but the most serious reaction to date has come from a group of U.S. lawmakers led by Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Chris Smith. In an Aug. 28 letter to Trump administration officials, they proposed using the Global Magnitsky Act of 2016 — previously deployed to sanction Russian oligarchs and Turkish officials — to freeze the travel and assets of officials including Xinjiang party chief Chen Quanguo. The governments of Muslim-majority nations, meanwhile, have largely remained silent, refraining from public statements. Their reasons are threefold: Most enjoy a friendly relationship with China, a major trade partner and aid donor. The police state in Xinjiang has made it nearly impossible for outsiders to gather first-hand information about alleged abuses that might be taking place there. And the Beijing government’s policy of not inserting itself into other nations’ foreign policy might now be paying dividends.

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6. What about China’s neighbors?

The crackdown is taking place in the heart of the Belt and Road, Xi’s global flagship trade and infrastructure initiative. Xinjiang is positioned at the imagined crossroads of possible new economic routes to and from Central Asia. And China’s treatment of Muslims has gained attention in at least one neighbor central to those ambitions. An undocumented ethnic-Kazakh Chinese citizen recently testified that she had been forced to teach in a camp before escaping. Kazakhstan authorities didn’t deport her.


An executive at Human Rights Watch told Peace and Freedom, “Like the Uighurs in Xinjiang, the Rohingya are in the way of China’s Belt and Road. And nobody seems to care.”

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Ethnic Uighur children in the old town of Kashgar, in the far western Xinjiang province © Getty

  (Academic Freedom Chinese Style)

Image result for China’s ethnic Kazakhs, photos





China Defends Re-Education Camps for Muslims: Lots of countries take steps to prevent terrorism

August 31, 2018

Around 1 million Uighurs have disappeared without trial. Worse may come. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is behaving much like Hitler’s Nazis before them….


Many countries take steps to prevent terrorism, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday, after United Nations’ human rights experts voiced alarm over the country’s alleged political re-education camps for Muslim Uighurs.

Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the comment at a regular news briefing.

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Hua Chunying


Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez


An executive at Human Rights Watch told Peace and Freedom, “Like the Uighurs in Xinjiang, the Rohingya are in the way of China’s Belt and Road. And nobody seems to care.”

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Ethnic Uighur children in the old town of Kashgar, in the far western Xinjiang province © Getty

  (Academic Freedom Chinese Style)

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U.N. calls on China to free Uighurs from ‘re-education camps’

August 30, 2018

United Nations human rights experts voiced concern on Thursday over alleged Chinese political “re-education camps” for Muslim Uighurs, and called for the immediate release of those detained on the “pretext of countering terrorism”.

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A Chinese pagoda towers over the old town in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination cited estimates that “from tens of thousands to upwards of a million Uighurs” may be detained in the far western Xinjiang province.

Its findings were issued after a two-day review of China’s record, the first since 2009, earlier this month.

China’s foreign ministry rejected the allegations at the time, and said that anti-China forces were behind criticism of policies in Xinjiang.

China has said that Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists who plot attacks and stir up tensions between the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and the ethnic Han Chinese majority.

The independent experts said during the review that the panel had received many credible reports that a million ethnic Uighurs are held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy”. Panel expert Gay McDougall described it at the time as a “no-rights zone”.

In its conclusions, the panel said it was alarmed by: “Numerous reports of detention of large numbers of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities held incommunicado and often for long periods, without being charged or tried, under the pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism.”

It regretted that there was no official data on those detained “for even non-threatening expressions of Muslim ethno-religious culture like daily greetings”.

The panel decried “reports of mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uighurs, including through frequent baseless police stops and the scanning of mobile phones at police checkpoint stations”.

There were reports that “many Uighurs abroad who left China have allegedly been returned to the country against their will”, it said, calling on China to disclose the current location and status of students and asylum seekers who went back.

The panel also urged China to allow Tibetans access to passports for foreign travel and to promote the use of the Tibetan language in education, the judicial system, and media.


Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Bolton


An executive at Human Rights Watch told Peace and Freedom, “Like the Uighurs in Xinjiang, the Rohingya are in the way of China’s Belt and Road. And nobody seems to care.”

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Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and outdoor

Ethnic Uighur children in the old town of Kashgar, in the far western Xinjiang province © Getty

  (Academic Freedom Chinese Style)

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China’s Mass Internment Camps Have No Clear End in Sight

August 25, 2018

Around 1 million Uighurs have disappeared without trial. Worse may come. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is behaving much like Hitler’s Nazis before them….

Last summer, online links between China’s western Xinjiang region and the rest of the world began to go dark. Uighurs, who make up the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang, started cutting friends and family members abroad from their contacts on WeChat, the dominant online communication platform in China. Many asked their family members not to call them by phone. The family of one Uighur I spoke to smuggled a final communication through the chat function integrated into a video game. In 2009, the government had shut down the internet entirely for almost a year, but this was something different. Entire minority groups were cutting themselves off from the outside world, one contact deletion at a time.

A woman and child walk in front of a line of police

Uighurs and members of other Muslim minorities are seen as a “problem” by the Communist China government

As Uighurs were disappearing from cross-border conversations, distinctive new building complexes began cropping up throughout the region: large construction projects surrounded by double fences and guard towers, all clearly visible on satellite imagery. Hundreds of thousands of minority men and women, mostly Uighurs but also others, have disappeared into these compounds in the last year, usually with no notice to family members and no charges of illegal activity. As police have struggled to round up enough Uighurs to meet internment quotas, the tiniest signs of potential disloyalty to the authorities, such as giving up drinking or not greeting officials, have become grounds for disappearance. Contact with the outside world is one of those signs of purported untrustworthiness.

Given the dark consequences for communication with foreigners, it is surprising how much those of us outside of China have been able to discover about the mass-internment program for minorities in Xinjiang. Based in part on leaks by an unusually forthcoming police official in Kashgar (now himself incommunicado), scholars have estimated that about 5 to 10 percent of the adult Uighur population has been interned without criminal charge. In one township, police told reporters from Radio Free Asia that they were expected to send 40 percent of the population, including nearly 100 percent of men between the ages of 20 and 50, to the internment system.

For international audiences, the Chinese state has denied the existence of what have come to be known as “re-education camps,” but local officials continue to build new compounds, and openly call for construction contracts online, providing details on everything from camp sizes (up to 883,000 square feet) to the types of materials (“bomb-proof surfaces”) required. A few internees have been released for one reason or another and shared their stories of camp life with reporters, describing conditions ranging from uncomfortable to literally torturous.

But questions remain, including the crucial matters of what the internment network is designed to do and what is in store for its victims. The range of interpretations is wide. Local media in Xinjiang present the camps as short-term rehabilitation facilities. Uighurs with family members and friends now gone for six months and more fear much worse. And the appearance of a recruitment notice for 50 “stouthearted” guards at a crematorium outside of Urumqi, the regional capital, has fed fears that the Chinese government is equipped for mass killing.

While the intent behind policy choices is never fully knowable, particularly in an opaque state like China, the last year has produced leaked data, online traces, and eyewitness reports that provide clues about the goals of decision-makers in Xinjiang. Viewed in the context of the long history of resistance to Chinese rule in Xinjiang and the Chinese attempts to eliminate it, some motives become clear.

Since the Qing dynasty’s conquest of the region in 1759, China-based states have confronted the difficulties of outsider rule in the region they dubbed Xinjiang—the “new frontier”—including rebellions in 1864, 1933, and 1945 that led to the establishment of short-lived independent states. At the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, only 6 percent of Xinjiang’s population was Han Chinese, and the Chinese authorities tended to view the indigenous inhabitants, particularly the majority Uighur ethnic group, with condescension and suspicion. By 1982, pro-settler policies had increased the proportion of ethnic Chinese in Xinjiang to 40 percent, but authorities continued to worry about indigenous resistance as a threat to their state’s territorial aspirations. Even after two centuries of China-based rule, the indigenous inhabitants of Xinjiang had more in common culturally with Central Asia and the Middle East than with China, and resistance, both peaceful and violent, was common.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has made sense of this resistance in different ways over the years. In the 1990s, it was mostly seen as ethno-nationalist “separatism” fueled by pan-Turkic ideology. After 2001, when the PRC aligned itself with the U.S. “global war on terror,” authorities began to speak more often of “terrorism” supposedly bred by religious “extremism,” borrowing heavily from Islamophobic discourses in the West. What the two approaches share is an assumption that belief systems and ideas are what cause people to resist, not restrictive cultural policies, economics, or relative status within society, and certainly not unfair treatment by a colonizing state.

Until recently, official explanations for acts of resistance dealt with the unsettling prospect of discontent by insisting that only a handful of bad apples held beliefs opposed to CCP rule. Authorities in Xinjiang invested their energy in controlling those “evil forces” through security measures. This approach peaked in the response to the deadly protests-turned-riots of 2009. In July of that year, Uighurs in Urumqi protested the deadly beating of Uighur factory workers outside Shenzhen. When police tried to break up an initially peaceful protest, it degenerated into rioting, and Uighurs murdered almost 200 bystanders, mostly Han Chinese.

State media blamed a purported plot by Uighur exiles in Europe and the United States. The People’s Armed Police, a paramilitary security force, flooded the region, setting up checkpoints and fortified guard posts throughout Xinjiang. Convoys of olive-green troop transports paraded continuously around town centers. Not forgetting the importance of Uighur hearts and minds, they bore banners promoting “ethnic unity.” In the following years, authorities blanketed cities with security cameras and placed restrictions on travel for rural Uighurs. The early 2000s had seen a steady tightening of state controls on Uighur movement, religious practices, and expression, but the fallout of the 2009 uprising accelerated the transformation of Xinjiang into a full-bore racist police state.

Today’s internment camp system reflects a shift in official ideas about the scale of ideological threats. Under Chen Quanguo, Xinjiang’s top official since August of 2016, state policy treats all Uighurs as likely opponents of the party, an implicit recognition that huge numbers of Uighurs are not, in fact, grateful for Chinese rule. In this view, not only are wrong beliefs the root of Uighur dissatisfaction with the party, but those wrong beliefs are endemic to Uighur, Kazakh, and other minority groups.

It is not surprising, then, that the most common officially cited purpose for the internment camps is to purify people’s thoughts, “eliminating extremism” and instilling a love for the party. A recorded announcement leaked this month from Xinjiang’s Communist Party Youth League, designed to calm rampant fears about the re-education camps, explained that camps “treat and cleanse the virus from their brains.” The names used for camps have varied widely, both for the same camp over time and from one camp to the next, but most have included the word “transformation”—for example, “concentrated education transformation center.”

The handful of people released from the camps and able to share their stories describe a variety of indoctrination techniques aimed to instill love for the Communist Party of China and its leader, Xi Jinping. “Teachers” and guards compel internees to chant slogans, watch videos on how to identify Islamic extremism, study Confucian texts, give thanks to Chairman Xi Jinping before meals, renounce Islam, write self-criticisms, and denounce fellow internees. Some of these, particularly self-criticisms and denunciations, are staples of CCP indoctrination programs as old as the People’s Republic itself, techniques that gave the English language the word “brainwashing,” a direct translation of the Chinese xi nao. These go-to CCP techniques are combined with what are presented as modern psychological approaches, as re-education centers recruit staff with psychological training.

The content of the indoctrination reflects a new emphasis on nationalism throughout the PRC. State media outlets tout the party as China’s savior as they always have, but “China” is now more tightly linked to the culture of the ethnic majority, the Han Chinese. In this view, religions deemed foreign, for example Islam and Christianity, are seen as threats, as is the purportedly Chinese religion of Buddhism when it is practiced by non-Han people such as Tibetans. More than any leader since Mao Zedong, Xi Jinping has promoted the idea that he himself is the embodiment and protector of the Chinese nation. In some camps, inmates are required to replace the common Islamic blessing before meals, bismillah, with thanks to Xi Jinping.

Chinese paramilitary policemen stand guard

Chinese paramilitary policemen stand guard on a street in Kashgar, Xinjiang, in 2014.

Outside of China, it is difficult to find informed observers who think that forced indoctrination, limits on cultural expression, and restricting religious practice are likely to do anything other than breed anger at the party. In Xinjiang however, faith in these techniques seems to run high, or at least there is little room for officials to voice concerns. Before 2016, local officials enjoyed some room for improvisation as they attempted to implement central policies. In many counties they created programs clearly aimed at compelling ideological transformation. The strangest of these were the coerced line-dancing competitions that spread across the region in 2014. These were supposed to move people away from “extremist” forms of Islam that forbid dance. In other places they pushed children to sign promises not to believe in God and arranged public ceremonies for pledging loyalty to the CCP. The indoctrination materials themselves can promote the notion of “transformation,” as in the case of a camp where internees were forced to memorize Confucian classics, the foundational texts of a philosophy that promotes the power of ritual to refashion the individual.

But the internment camps play other important roles. They allow police to physically remove whole classes of people from society. In at least three counties, police have reported that they interned all or nearly all Uighurs born between 1980 and 2000, calling them an “untrustworthy generation.” Interned Uighurs are physically unable to engage in public resistance to CCP rule. Physical removal also bolsters CCP programs to assimilate Uighur children to Chinese culture, by removing them from the care of their parents. One Kashgar-area county alone has seen the construction of 18 new orphanages over the last year to accommodate children left behind by interned parents, where they will be taught entirely in Chinese.

At a wider scale, the camps serve as the punitive threat behind the state’s cultural and ideological re-engineering of Uighur society. Without the need for legal charges, authorities can arbitrarily disappear any member of an ethnic minority group for the smallest perceived disobedience. In January, an instructor at a daytime re-education course told his students that they would be sent to the internment camps if they could not memorize both the oath of allegiance to the Communist Party and the national anthem in Chinese within three days, according to village police who spoke to Radio Free Asia. The day before the deadline, a class member in his 40s who was having difficulty memorizing the text hanged himself.

The threat of internment is magnified by a surveillance apparatus of unprecedented scale, marrying old-fashioned manpower—such as armed police and neighborhood committees of the sort that fueled East Germany’s police state—with high-tech, networked surveillance equipment. Uighurs are subject to regular mandatory home visits by “work teams” composed of party members and other “loyal” state representatives. These visits range in duration from daytime visits to multi-day stays, during which the visitors interview their hosts about their thoughts and habits and inspect their homes for prohibited items. The results of these interviews are normally kept secret, but in one case a visiting team boasted online of their effectiveness: they sent one-fifth of a village population for internment and indoctrination. Children assist in the policing of private spaces, as schools encourage them to report on their parents’ religious practices in the home.

Cities are blanketed with surveillance cameras. Checkpoints at market entrances, train stations, and even book stores scan people’s faces and check them against their identification cards using facial recognition software. Smartphone owners are required to install government spyware that reports on content stored in the phone. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, the enormous amounts of data generated by these electronic monitoring systems are combined with the information from work teams’ home visits and entered into an “integrated joint operations platform” that employs big-data analysis to predict which individuals will engage in acts of disloyalty. Police at checkpoints regularly check phones for “illegal” content. Attempts to drop out of this surveillance web are dangerous; one police station reported interning people who stopped using their phones.

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The near-complete eradication of privacy and the massive scale of internment appears to be changing Uighurs’ behavior. Ten years ago, bans on the Uighur language in schools, popular novels (often printed by government-run presses), and private prayers and rituals seemed unenforceable. Local teachers ignored rules about language use, banned books were easy to find in private bookstores, and purportedly illegal rituals like Sufi dance remained common. Today Uighurs rush to burn their own books and strain to guess what will make their home visitors view them as loyal, out of fear that they will join the many family members and friends whom they have personally seen disappear over the last 18 months.

The re-education camps also cast their shadows beyond Xinjiang and even China’s borders. Xinjiang security personnel have been calling Uighurs working in the rest of China back to their hometowns, where, more often than not, they disappear. Police track the activities of Uighurs from their locales even when they reside abroad, demanding photographic evidence of their presence at universities or offices. Some are commanded to return home to certain detention. Uighurs comply out of fear for their families. Some who have spoken out about the situation in their homeland have seen large numbers of relatives disappear. Depression is rampant among Uighur exiles. All known cases of Uighurs returning to China in the last year have resulted in the returnee’s disappearance. Across the world, Uighurs with expiring passports or visas are currently weighing whether to claim asylum in foreign lands and never see their families again, or to face near-certain internment upon their return to Xinjiang.

A Uighur woman walks by a closed Islamic school in the old town of Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province on July 1, 2017. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

The most widely circulated estimate of the number of people interned in re-education camps—several hundred thousand to just over 1 million—was developed by Adrian Zenz of the European School of Culture and Theology from leaks that surfaced in January and February. In the half-year since then, Uighurs, Kazakhs, and others have continued to disappear. Uighurs with family in Xinjiang and academics who have visited in the past few months have only rarely reported individual releases, usually of older people with health problems. Officials in one Kucha district have told reporters that none of the approximately 5,000 to 6,000 residents sent to the camps over the last two years have been released. Tellingly, the state has continued to invest in camp construction. In response to growing global scrutiny, the Chinese state has deleted its existing online bid solicitations for re-education camp construction and ceased posting new announcements. Even so, public solicitations from March and April suggest that new camps will open later this year or early next year.

The expanding re-education internment system is interconnected with the ordinary prison system, which has seen its own expansion. Last year, Xinjiang accounted for 13 percent of China’s indictments, despite having only 1.5 percent of the country’s population. The number of arrests is even larger, accounting for 21 percent of China’s total, according to analysis by the activist group, Chinese Human Rights Defenders. For many detainees, the first stop is a kanshousuo, a temporary detention center. Shawn Zhang, a Chinese graduate student in Canada who has used Google satellite images to document the “construction boom” of re-education centers and other detention facilities across Xinjiang, notes that the kanshousuo account for many facilities. Google imagery from April 22 shows one such structure near Khotan being expanded by 150 percent.

Police patrol in a night food market near the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang, region, a day before the Eid al-Fitr holiday in 2017.
Police patrol in a night food market near the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang, region, a day before the Eid al-Fitr holiday in 2017. PHOTO: JOHANNES EISELE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

An official in Karakash explained that re-education camps also act as gateways to the formal prison system. Another officer, from a village near Kashgar, said that evidence uncovered during re-education can lead to transfer to ordinary prisons. The construction of new re-education camps suggests that the space freed up by the prison transfers is not sufficient to house the continued influx of internees sent for forced indoctrination.

The February numbers may have been eclipsed in the months since, but they are historically significant nonetheless. At the upper end of the Zenz estimate, Xinjiang’s re-education camp population exceeds the peak daily inmate numbers of Nazi concentration camps (714,211 in 1945, according to Nikolaus Wachsmann’s 2015 bookKL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps), is several times the number of the Japanese citizens interned by the United States during World War II, and amounts to about half the capacity of the Soviet gulag system, which held around 2 million people. It remains to be seen which of these precedents the massive Xinjiang internment infrastructure will ultimately most resemble.

The permanent construction style of the re-education camps, visible in satellite images that clearly document their building process, suggests that the Chinese state, left to its own devices, intends to maintain the camp system for the foreseeable future. Barring a complete abandonment of the camp system, the most moderate plausible outcome is that at some point authorities dramatically reduce the number of internees, maintaining recalcitrant inmates in the camps, and preserving the capacity to return huge numbers to extrajudicial internment. In this outcome, the camps would continue to uphold Xinjiang’s racist police state and support the CCP’s assimilationist program of cultural and ideological cleansing.

Such a dire prediction could, however, turn out to be optimistic. Historically, extrajudicial internment systems have often deviated from their original purposes. A lack of due process, combined with the immense power that mass-internment programs give states to control the fates of minority populations, makes camps like those in Xinjiang easy to adapt to new goals. The eruption of war, acts of violence by oppressed minorities, guards’ long inurement to abusive treatment of prisoners, and ideological shifts at the top of the bureaucracy all have the potential, alone or in interaction, to turn the camps to darker purposes.

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Local officials have already expressed dehumanizing outlooks on the role of the re-education camps as “eradicating tumors” and “spraying chemicals on the crops to kill the weeds.” Should authorities decide that forced indoctrination has widely failed, much of Xinjiang’s minority population will be framed as irredeemable. And with the state-controlled Global Times claiming, in response to the recent U.N. condemnation of China’s racial policies in Xinjiang, that “all measures can be tried” in the pursuit of China’s “stability,” mass murder and genocide do not look like impossible outcomes.

Rian Thum is an Associate Professor of History at Loyola University New Orleans and an American Council of Learned Societies Fellow. He is the author of The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History (Harvard University Press, 2014). @RianThum


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Ethnic Uighur children in the old town of Kashgar, in the far western Xinjiang province © Getty

  (Academic Freedom Chinese Style)

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