New Reports Add Detail to Xinjiang Camp Allegations

Several new detailed reports on extralegal detention centers in Xinjiang have shed new light on the extent of the camps, the treatment of detainees, and the heightened restrictions placed on , , and other Turkic Muslims living or traveling in the region. According to numerous witness accounts, the detentions camps use a combination of physical abuse and psychological coercion to eradicate detainees’ Muslim beliefs and ensure their loyalty to the Communist Party. Up to one million people are currently being held in the camps, which are continuing to expand in size; according to scholar Adrian Zenz, who has written extensively about the camps, “China’s re-education drive in Xinjiang is arguably the country’s most intense campaign of coercive social re-engineering since the Cultural Revolution.”

The New York Times’ Chris Buckley traveled to Hotan, Xinjiang, the center of an ongoing government security crackdown, and spoke with former detainees and their families about their experiences:

In addition to the mass detentions, the authorities have intensified the use of informers and expanded police surveillance, even installing cameras in some people’s homes. Human rights activists and experts say the campaign has traumatized Uighur society, leaving behind fractured communities and families.

“Penetration of everyday life is almost really total now,” said Michael Clarke, an expert on Xinjiang at Australian National University in Canberra. “You have ethnic identity, Uighur identity in particular, being singled out as this kind of pathology.”

[…] The New York Times interviewed four recent camp inmates from Xinjiang who described physical and verbal abuse by guards; grinding routines of singing, lectures and self-criticism meetings; and the gnawing anxiety of not knowing when they would be released. Their accounts were echoed in interviews with more than a dozen Uighurs with relatives who were in the camps or had disappeared, many of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid government retaliation.

The Times also discovered reports online written by teams of Chinese officials who were assigned to monitor families with detained relatives, and a study published last year that said officials in some places were indiscriminately sending ethnic Uighurs to the camps to meet numerical quotas. [Source]

For The Atlantic, Sigal Samuel has reported that one key strategy of the government’s is to split up families in an effort to make children’s and parents’ first allegiance to the Chinese nation and the Communist Party:

“I really think this is achieving the sinicization of children better than previous attempts,” said Rian Thum, a historian of in China. “There was an attempt in the early 1900s to force all of what we would now call Uighur children to go to Chinese school. And it just failed miserably. Rich people would pay poor people to send their kids in their own kids’ place. All the education just got undone back in the home. But now, when you take the parents out of the picture, suddenly that sinicizing education can actually take root.” [Source]

A new report from Human Rights Watch examines the various ways Chinese authorities are exerting control over residents in Xinjiang, both inside camps and in the broader society. The camps “have no basis in Chinese law,” according to the HRW report; “Those detained have been denied due process rights and suffered torture and other ill-treatment.”

For the report, HRW researchers spoke with 58 former residents of Xinjiang, including Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic Muslims:

It is not uncommon to find Uyghurs, particularly from Hotan and Kashgar in southern Xinjiang, – perceived by the authorities as anti-government hotspots – reporting that half or more of their immediate family members are in a mix of political education camps, pre-trial detention, and prison. For example, an interviewee said her husband, his 4 brothers, and their 12 nephews – that is, all the men in the family – have been detained in political education camps since 2017.

There have been reports of deaths in the political education camps, raising concerns about physical and psychological abuse, as well as stress from poor conditions, overcrowding, and indefinite confinement. While basic medical care is available, people are held even when they have serious illnesses or are elderly; there are also children in their teens, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people with disabilities. Former detainees reported suicide attempts and harsh punishments for disobedience in the facilities.

[…] In many ways, the treatment of all Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang – those held inside detention facilities and those ostensibly free – bears disturbing similarities. Inside political education camps, detainees are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, sing praises of the Chinese Communist Party, and memorize rules applicable primarily to Turkic Muslims. Those outside the camps are required to attend weekly, or even daily, Chinese flag-raising ceremonies, political indoctrination meetings, and at times Mandarin classes. Detainees are told they may not be allowed to leave the camps unless they have learned over 1,000 Chinese characters or are otherwise deemed to have become loyal Chinese subjects; Turkic Muslims living outside are subjected to movement restrictions ranging from house arrest, to being barred from leaving their locales, to being prevented from leaving the country. Inside, people are punished for peacefully practicing religion; outside, the government’s religious restrictions are so stringent that it has effectively outlawed Islam. Inside, people are closely watched by guards and are barred from contacting their families and friends. Those living in their homes are watched by their neighbors, officials, and tech-enabled mass surveillance systems, and are not allowed to contact those in foreign countries. [Source]

HRW also made recommendations to various actors and called on the international community to take a stronger stance in support of Muslims in Xinjiang:

It is evident that China does not foresee a significant political cost to its abusive Xinjiang campaign, partly due to its influence within the UN system, Human Rights Watch said. In the face of overwhelming evidence of grave abuses in Xinjiang, foreign governments should pursue a range of multilateral and unilateral actions. They should also pursue joint actions at the UN Human Rights Council, creating a coalition to gather and assess evidence of abuses in Xinjiang, and imposing targeted sanctions on Party Secretary and other senior officials responsible. [Source]

There was some movement on this front on Monday, as the newly appointed U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, spoke out about the situation in her first official speech. From Stephanie Nebehay at Reuters:

Bachelet, a former Chilean president making her maiden speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council, said the panel had brought to light “deeply disturbing allegations of large-scale arbitrary detentions of Uighurs and other Muslim communities, in so-called re-education camps across Xinjiang”.

Reports had been received of “patterns of human rights violations in other regions”, she said. Bachelet called on the Beijing government to permit access for her staff across China, saying that she expected discussions to start soon.

There was no immediate comment from the Chinese delegation to the council. Countries are due to respond to her speech on Tuesday. [Source]

In Washington, members of the Trump administration are reportedly considering using the Global Magnitsky Act to impose sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the administration of the camps. The Magnitsky Act allows the U.S. government to sanction government officials and businesses who are responsible for human rights abuses, including denying them entry to the U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Chris Smith had earlier written to U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad asking him to investigate the situation in Xinjiang and punish those responsible. Edward Wong reports at The New York Times:

The economic penalties would be one of the first times the Trump administration has taken action against China because of human rights violations. United States officials are also seeking to limit American sales of surveillance technology that Chinese security agencies and companies are using to monitor Uighurs throughout northwest China.

Discussions to rebuke China’s treatment of its minority Muslims have been underway for months among officials at the White House and the Treasury and State Departments. But they gained urgency two weeks ago, after members of Congress asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to impose sanctions on seven Chinese officials.

Until now, President Trump largely has resisted punishing China for its human rights record, or even accusing it of widespread violations. If approved, the penalties would fuel an already bitter standoff with Beijing over trade and pressure on North Korea’s nuclear program. [Source]

Independent reporting in Xinjiang is all but impossible for both foreign and Chinese journalists. Buzzfeed’s Megha Rajagopalan, one of the first Western journalists to write extensively about the elaborate surveillance mechanisms used to monitor residents of Xinjiang, was effectively kicked out of China when her visa was not renewed in August. At China Law and Policy, Elizabeth Lynch writes that the government’s treatment of Rajagopalan was intended as a warning to all foreign journalists attempting to write about Xinjiang:

The international heat is on about the Chinese government’s human rights violations in Xinjiang. And the Chinese government’s failure to renew Rajagopalan’s visa was not just retribution against her. Likely it was intended as a teaching lesson to other journalists – report on this and we might fail to renew your visa too. Fortunately, no one has taken the cue and powerful reporting continues. [Source]

Local Uyghur journalists have likewise been punished even if they have not written any provocative stories about the region. Radio Free Asia reports that Ilham Weli, deputy editor-in-chief of the Xinjiang Daily, was detained in late July along with three Uyghur directors of the paper. The editors were accused of being “two-faced officials,” which is, according to RFA, “a term applied by the government to Uyghur cadres who pay lip service to Communist Party rule in the XUAR, but secretly chafe against state policies repressing members of their ethnic group.” Censorship of related issues is going global with the reported cancellation of a column in the South African paper The Independent–in which official Chinese media companies have a stake–when the author wrote about China’s treatment of Uyghurs:

With limited access inside Xinjiang, researchers have turned to publicly available information online and interviews with detainees and their families who are now outside China. In a paper based on research from official government sources, Adrian Zenz provides evidence of the camps’ existence and the increase in their use especially since 2017 under new Xinjiang Party chief Chen Quanguo, whose policies have brought about a dramatic escalation in policing and surveillance in Xinjiang. Zenz writes that, “Based on the available documentary evidence, we can surmise that the region’s current re-education system exceeds the size of China’s entire former ‘education through labour’ system, which was officially abolished in 2013.”

In a Twitter thread, James Leibold questions why the government began to escalate the policy in 2017 and the role that Chen may have played:

Meanwhile, Chinese state media responded to the HRW report and related allegations: