Amid a tide of global condemnation, the Chinese government has denied, and later tried to justify, the use of re-education camps to imprison up to two million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. Recently described by officials as “vocational training centers,” the camps are, according to reports and equipment manifests, de facto detention centers where inmates have been subjected to physical and psychological coercion to force them to renounce Islam and vow allegiance to the Communist Party; detainees are often separated from their families, including young children, for lengthy periods. An extensive report by Australia’s ABC News gathers satellite footage to track the expansion of such camps through the region:
An investigation by ABC News using new research collated by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) think tank, identifies and documents the expansion of 28 detention camps that are part of a massive program of subjugation in the region of Xinjiang.
Analysis of the data shows that since the start of 2017, the 28 facilities have expanded their footprint by more than 2 million square metres. In the past three months alone, they’ve grown by 700,000 square metres – that’s about the size of 35 Melbourne Cricket Grounds.
[…] “What we’re seeing here is a breach of human rights that is of such a scale that we haven’t seen since the post Tiananmen Square crackdown in China,” said Fergus Ryan, an analyst and China expert at ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre.
An estimated two million Uighurs and other Muslims have been rounded up and detained in these camps where they are forced to undergo patriotic training and “de-extremification”, according to witnesses and human rights groups. [Source]
As part of their research, ASPI has publicly released their database of information about the camps. UBC law student Shawn Zhang has also compiled a list of alleged camps.
British diplomats who visited Xinjiang confirmed that reports on the camps are “broadly true,” Lily Kuo reports for The Guardian:
[Foreign Secretary Jeremy] Hunt told parliament on Tuesday that diplomats had visited Xinjiang in August and “concur that those reports are broadly accurate”.
His comment puts pressure on Beijing before a UN human rights panel that will on 6 November review China’s human rights record. The UK, the US, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Norway, Germany and Belgium have asked about Xinjiang in questions submitted for China ahead of the process known as the universal periodic review (UPR).
Hunt said he had raised the issue with his Chinese counterpart, the foreign minister, Wang Yi, on a trip in July. “We continue to be extremely concerned about what is happening,” he said. [Source]
For Dissent Magazine, Darren Byler and Timothy Grose write that waging a crackdown in Xinjiang to root out radical Islam may become a self-fulfilling prophecy for the government as the camps and other restrictions on cultural and religious practices in society at large may serve to radicalize the population and fuel instability:
Muslims in northwest China’s Xinjiang, the Uyghur homeland, endure a constant barrage of state-sanctioned violence. For hundreds of thousands of people, that violence comes in the form of incarceration in “reeducation” centers for which officials just recently attempted to provide legal justification. Those who have been spared this fate have not escaped the state’s assault on their freedoms. Although they are not confined to the reeducation compounds lined with razor wire, they are nonetheless subjected to institutionalized Islamophobia and omnipresent surveillance.
[…] The region’s protracted spiral of state oppression and Uyghur resistance raises questions about the future stability of the region itself. Despite state claims that Xinjiang has been an inalienable and “multi-ethnic” part of China “since ancient times,” many Uyghurs insist their language, religion, and culture are under assault and complain of exclusion from China’s booming but Han-dominated economy through forms of systematic, institutionalized bias. Uyghur people we interviewed said the region’s violence proceeds from experiences of loss and injustice, not from ideological motivations. Processes of dispossession are pushing Uyghurs to a breaking point. And yet the state clings to its well-rehearsed script, which holds that improving the Uyghurs’ material lives through market development while eradicating “extremism” will bring stability to the region. [Source]
An ongoing government policy to “Sinicize” religion has led to stringent political demands on China’s Buddhists and Christians as well as Muslims. In Foreign Affairs, Kelly Hammond, Rian Thum, and Jeffrey Wasserstrom write that the crackdown in Xinjiang is part of a broader regressive move toward repression throughout China under Xi Jinping; “What we are witnessing, in short, is not a continuation of China’s oppressive status quo but the onset of something alarming and new,” they write.
For more on recent developments in Xinjiang, see “War on the Uighurs” from Louisa Lim at China Channel, and “What’s Happening in Xinjiang? Four Questions About China’s Human Rights Crisis” from Matt Schiavenza at Asia Society.