Amid ongoing reports of forced labor, abuse, and even death within Xinjiang’s network of “re-education” camps—which have held between 800,000 and two million Turkic Muslims—an EU delegation was granted rare supervised access to Urumqi and Kashgar, marking the first time a multinational body was allowed in since China attempted to legally justify the camps’ existence. In preparation for the visit, reports emerged that Xinjiang authorities were removing barbed wire and metal window bars from camp facilities, relocating detainees, and instructing residents how to respond to potential international monitors. For AFP, Damon Wake reports:
[The visit] followed another trip last month, also led by the Chinese government, by diplomats from Russia and 11 Asian countries, most with large Muslim populations.
[...] "Whilst the sites that were visited were carefully selected by the authorities to support China's official narrative, the visit provided useful insight which complements other sources of information (including reports by UN bodies, international media, academic researchers, and NGOs)," the EU official said.
"Many of these sources provide compelling, and mutually consistent, evidence of major and systematic human rights violations in Xinjiang."
[...] The officials got the impression that the Chinese authorities had carefully curated the trip to try to give a good impression -- a school they visited had been freshly painted and it appeared that surveillance cameras had been removed.
They were left with the impression that the things said by the people they talked to were "scripted". [Source]
The delegation’s visit coincided with the death of an otherwise healthy middle-aged Uyghur businessman in an Atush City camp. RFA reports:
According to the post, which was made by an anonymous source claiming to be a fellow businessman from Atush, Memet was “martyred” in detention, and his family was informed about his death on Dec. 27 or 28, while “100 to 200 armed police officers encircled the neighbourhood to contain any emotional disturbance.”
It said that Memet’s body was never turned over to his family, possibly because he “suffered severe torture and was cremated afterwards” or “his internal organs were harvested for transplants,” and his relatives were prevented from holding a prayer service in the absence of performing funerary rights for his remains.
[...] RFA also contacted two ruling Communist Party cadres from Azghan, one of whom said he believed Memet was taken to a re-education camp because he “sent his children for religious studies” with a local cleric around a decade earlier.
[...] The second cadre said Weli Memet was “once strong and healthy,” but had become “thin and pale” before he died, due to poor food and conditions at the camp.
“Five or six people have already died” at local camps, he added, without providing further details. [Source]
Documenting Oppression Against Muslims (DOAM) has also released video footage of a Kazakh man reported to be recently released from a camp:
Newly-released #Kazakh man from a concentration camp in #EastTurkestan could barely walk by himself. He doesn't recognise anyone except his family & gets frightened by little movement of people around him. According to his relatives, he was forced-fed with unknown medications. pic.twitter.com/sR804VaIXU
— DOAM (@doamuslims) January 24, 2019
Those who manage to escape abroad are frequently pressured into spying on the exile community—refusal brings retribution upon their families back home. An Al Jazeera interview with a Uyghur who was forced to spy on his friends and family both inside and outside China is highly reflective of this trend:
"I reported on everything people did - what they ate, drank, what they did in private in their homes, whether it was friends or relatives, I shared it all."
[...] Amat says he began spying in 2012 because officials arrested and tortured his mother, threatening to keep her in detention unless he agreed to work for them.
[...] Amat says his handler sent him to also spy abroad, as part of China's expanding global network of surveillance. From 2012 to 2018, Amat says he was told to infiltrate Uighur communities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey. He says Beijing has "countless" informants around the world.
[...] "I've seen many people being beaten in interrogations inside. At times they used bare electrical cords - which inflict pain beyond what you can imagine. Those who were beaten made horrible shrieks, especially the young ladies my age. What I can't forget is the blood - human blood on the floor, on the walls, everywhere, afterwards." [Source]
At Bitter Winter, where at least 45 contributors in China have been arrested and interrogated on suspicion of espionage and subversion, Li Zaili details how colleagues in Xinjiang’s Yuli County must report on each other, how a mosque was leveled overnight, and how an overflow of detained Uyghurs were sent to subsequently overcrowded elderly care centers:
In June of last year, Ms. Zhang’s work unit held a mandatory meeting, during which government officials demanded that employees report and expose one another. Topics for reporting included: whether Uyghur employees usually speak Mandarin or Uyghur; whether they eat halal or Chinese food during their breaks; do their names have sensitive meanings, like Mohammed or Arafat; do employees or their relatives have religious beliefs or have ever participated in congregations or any other religious ceremonies; whether or not any individuals or their relatives have ever gone on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and similar questions.
Government officers stated that those who didn’t proactively confess would be sent to “transformation through education camps” upon being reported.
[...] The insider said, “The mosque that was demolished was huge. Hundreds of people used to go to the mosque to worship. Each day, five to six police officers with loaded rifles were by the doors, and I heard that there would be two more officers inside the Mosque listening to the Muslims reading scripture. Now, you can’t even tell there was a mosque here just two days ago, and all that’s left is a fenced-in vacant lot.”
[...] “As so many Uyghurs had been seized, and the detention centers couldn’t hold them all, they had no choice but to lock up some Uyghurs in homes for the elderly,” the insider reported. “But so many people have been arrested that even the elderly homes can’t hold them all, and now the government has constructed a ‘study’ base in a rural area outside of the county that can hold 8,000 people. I heard that the CCP is rounding up everyone with religious beliefs and who doesn’t listen to the Party, and is holding them for indoctrination.” [Source]
Meanwhile, Hong Kong-listed Frontier Services Group (FSG) announced plans to build a training base in Xinjiang. FSG was co-founded by former U.S. military services contractor and former U.S. Navy SEAL officer Erik Prince. At Reuters, Christian Shepherd reports:
FSG, a security, logistics and insurance provider, signed a deal with the Kashgar Caohu industrial park in southern Xinjiang to build a training center, FSG said in a Chinese-language statement on its website.
It did not provide details of the project but said a signing ceremony in Beijing on Jan. 11 was attended by officials from Xinjiang’s Tumxuk city and from CITIC Guoan Construction, owned by state-run conglomerate CITIC Group.
FSG will invest 4 million yuan ($600,000) in the center, which will have the capacity to train 8,000 people a year, state media said in a report.
[...] FSG told Reuters in 2017 that it planned to set up an office in Xinjiang.
That year, it acquired a 25 percent stake in a security training facility in Beijing, which it said was the largest such school in China and would allow FSG to provide “world-class training courses” to Chinese companies. [Source]
Erik Prince has since denied having knowledge of FSG’s plans, and the announcement of the signed deal has been removed from FSG’s website. Reuters’ Christian Shepherd picks up the story:
“Any potential investment of this nature would require the knowledge and input of each FSG Board member and a formal Board resolution,” the spokesman said in an email.
Prince is deputy chairman, a minority shareholder and a board member of FSG, a security, logistics and insurance provider.
The former U.S. Navy SEAL officer is the brother of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. He founded the U.S. military contractor formerly called Blackwater that drew international scrutiny and faced lawsuits for shootings and other conduct in Iraq. It now operates as Virginia-based Academi.
A Hong Kong-based spokesman for FSG told Reuters on Friday that the statement was “published in error by a staff member in Beijing” and had been taken off FSG’s website. [Source]
For a comprehensive on-the-ground recounting of life in Xinjiang’s police state, read Peter Martin’s account of his ten days in Xinjiang via Bloomberg, and listen to La Trobe University’s Asia Rising podcast episode on the fate of the Uyghur in China.