Since 2014, Xinjiang has been the frontline of a controversial crackdown on terrorism that has been criticized by human rights advocates for targeting members of the Uyghur ethnic minority, and exacerbating ethnic tensions in the region. This week, Radio Free Asia reported that at least 120,000 members of the Uyghur ethnic minority are currently being held in re-education facilities in Kashgar, Xinjiang, citing an unnamed security official as their source.
Since April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “extremist” and “politically incorrect” views have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout Xinjiang, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
[…] The security chief of Kashgar city’s Chasa township recently told RFA on condition of anonymity that “approximately 120,000” Uyghurs are being held throughout the prefecture, based on information he has received from other area officials.
[…] Kashgar city is home to four re-education camps, the security chief said, the largest of which was established in the city’s No. 5 Middle School in May 2017.
[…] In Bayin’gholin Mongol (Bayinguoleng Menggu) Autonomous Prefecture’s Korla city—where sources told RFA recently that as many as 1,000 people have been admitted to the city’s detention facilities over the course of a few days—a local government employee named Erkin Bawdun recently said that area re-education camps “are completely full.”
Bawdun said that a friend who spent time as an inmate at a local re-education camp told him he had seen officials from the center tell the police to “stop bringing people … as it is already too full.”
He described cells that had previously held eight people now accommodating 14 inmates, who “were not allowed pillows” and “had to lay on their sides because there was not enough room to lay flat,” let alone space to turn over or stretch their legs. [Source]
Other measures in the ongoing anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang have included selective religious fasting bans, local and region-wide rules against “extremist behavior” including wearing veils or beards, propaganda campaigns aiming to promote ethnic harmony, a ban on “extreme” Islamic baby names, and a controversial biometric data collection system. Earlier this week, Reuters reported on a planned “Great Wall” on Xinjiang’s border to prevent foreign militant infiltration. Last week, the South China Morning Post published an opinion article by Amnesty International’s Roseann Rife, who argues that turning Xinjiang into a “testing ground for some of the most oppressive security policies seen in China in recent years” is a counterproductive approach to achieving stability in the region.
While China’s nationwide media controls have long been tighter in sensitive minority regions like Xinjiang and Tibet, authorities have increased measures to control the media narrative in Xinjiang during the anti-terror campaign. Amid these enhanced controls, information is often first reported by advocacy groups and foreign government-funded media organizations such as Radio Free Asia. Covering RFA’s report on political re-education in the Kashgar region, The Guardian’s Tom Phillips quotes Human Rights Watch’s Maya Wang on the credibility of RFA’s data, and provides more info on the re-education centers from an earlier HRW report:
Maya Wang, a Human Rights Watch campaigner who wrote a recent report on the camps, said the figures cited by RFA were credible although growing levels of repression in Xinjiang meant reliable numbers were impossible to ascertain. Estimates of the total number of people who have spent time in such centres in Xinjiang, which has a population of about 22 million, ran as high as 800,000, Wang added. “It’s just like a black hole which people are added to and don’t get out of.”
[…] According to Human Rights Watch’s report, the centres are often housed in converted government buildings such as schools or specially built facilities. Wang said detainees were often held, unlawfully and without charge, as a result of religious “offences” such as excessive praying or non-religious acts such as accessing proscribed websites.
Wang said that while authorities claimed the centres were about combating terrorism and separatism, they were in fact designed to brainwash and assimilate Uighurs. “At the political education facilities, they sing patriotic songs. They learn about Xi Jinping thought. These are patriotic measures aimed at making Uighurs love the Chinese government,” she said. “It’s extreme repression and yet completely silent.” [Source]
Meanwhile, concern over surveillance and the restriction of religious freedom in a Tibetan region of China is also on the rise. Human Rights Watch yesterday reported on new rights-infringing administrative controls that authorities are imposing on the Tibetan Buddhist center of Larung Gar, Sichuan. The demolition of monastic dwellings at Larung Gar—once considered the largest Tibetan Buddhist institute in the world—began in 2016, and reportedly continued through April of last year.
According to an official document obtained by Human Rights Watch, some 200 Communist Party cadres and lay officials are taking over all management, finances, security, admissions, and even the choice of textbooks at the center, following demolitions and expulsions in 2017.
“The new government controls over Larung Gar fly in the face of Party claims that China respects constitutionally protected religious beliefs,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The micromanagement of the Tibetan monastery encroaches on religious freedom and is likely to fuel resentment against Beijing.”
The brochure emphasizes increased security and heightened control of the monks and nuns, calling for rigid limits on the numbers allowed to stay there, and for ongoing surveillance of the monastery population through the establishment of a “grid management” system throughout the settlement. It also states that all residents and visitors will be subjected to “real-name registration,” with monks required to have red tags or labels (Tibetan: byang bu), while nuns will have yellow labels, and lay devotees will have green ones.
[…] “The administrative takeover of Larung Gar by Party officials shows that the government’s aim was not merely to reduce numbers at the settlement,” Richardson said. “Chinese authorities are also imposing pervasive control and surveillance over every level of activity within religious communities.” [Source]