China Defends Xinjiang Camps Amid Pleas for Action

China Defends Xinjiang Camps Amid Pleas for Action

The Chinese government has issued a White Paper defending its policies in and the forced internment of up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. The government document provides the official version of the history of the region, allegedly demonstrating that “ has long been an inseparable part of Chinese territory.” Reuters reports on the White Paper:

Legal authorities have adopted a policy that “strikes the right balance between compassion and severity”, the government said in its white paper.

Since 2014, Xinjiang has “destroyed 1,588 violent and terrorist gangs, arrested 12,995 terrorists, seized 2,052 explosive devices, punished 30,645 people for 4,858 illegal religious activities, and confiscated 345,229 copies of illegal religious materials”, it added.

Only a small minority of people face strict punishment, such as ringleaders of terror groups, while those influenced by extremist thinking receive education and training to teach them the error of their ways, the paper said. [Source]

The White Paper describes the three types of people who are likely to end up in the camps, which it refers to as “education and training centers”:

At present, the trainees at the centers fall into three categories:

1. People who were incited, coerced or induced into participating in terrorist or extremist activities, or people who participated in terrorist or extremist activities in circumstances that were not serious enough to constitute a crime;

2. People who were incited, coerced or induced into participating in terrorist or extremist activities, or people who participated in terrorist or extremist activities that posed a real danger but did not cause actual harm, whose subjective culpability was not deep, who made confessions of their crimes and were contrite about their past actions and thus can be exempted from punishment in accordance with the law, and who have demonstrated the willingness to receive training;

3. People who were convicted and received prison sentence for terrorist or extremist crimes and after serving their sentences, have been assessed as still posing potential threats to society, and who have been ordered by people’s courts to receive education at the centers in accordance with the law.

In accordance with Articles 29 and 30 of the Counterterrorism Law of the People’s Republic of China, people in the first and third categories will be placed at the centers to receive support and education. With regard to people in the second category, a small number of them should be punished severely, while the majority should be rehabilitated in accordance with the policy of striking a balance between punishment and compassion. Confession, repentance, and willingness to receive training are preconditions for leniency, and these people will receive education to help reform their ways after they have been exempted from penalty in accordance with the law. [Source]

The paper further describes the camps’ agenda as “a step-by-step approach…which begins with learning standard spoken and written Chinese language, then moves on to studying the law, and concludes with learning vocational skills.”

The World Uyghur Congress offered their response to the document:

Many accounts reported by the media from former detainees, camp staff, and families of those detained also provide a different picture from the White Paper, where Uyghurs are rounded up for little more than their ethnic and religious identity, and then face widespread abuse, torture, forced labor, political indoctrination, and sometimes death. German researcher Adrian Zenz has estimated that 1.5 million people are currently detained in the camps, gathering the number “based on satellite images, public spending on detention facilities and witness accounts of overcrowded facilities and missing family members,” according to a Reuters report. Among those detained are more than 300 intellectuals, academics, artists, and other cultural figures who focus on preserving and studying Uyghur culture. Several of those detained have been described by family and friends as being non-religious and politically moderate, including the poet Ablet Abdurishit Berqi, who is not a practicing Muslim and who is already fluent in Mandarin Chinese so would have no need for language training.

At the United Nations and elsewhere, foreign governments and human rights experts are increasingly speaking out against the camps. At last week’s U.N. Human Rights Council meetings, Chinese vice foreign minister Le Yucheng defended the camps’ existence but said they would be gradually decreased. An editorial in The New York Times describes the conditions in the camps and concludes: “What is happening in Xinjiang must not be ignored”:

Reports from survivors, Uighur dissidents, the Uighur diaspora, satellite imagery and other sources depict something far more akin to the gulag than a happy boarding school, with at least 120,000 and possibly more than a million Uighurs, out of a population of more than 10 million Muslims in Xinjiang, forced to undergo Cultural Revolution-style coercion to adopt state-sanctioned norms of political thought and behavior.

Writing in The Times, Mustafa Akyol, a senior fellow on Islam at the Cato Institute, described camps at which “people are forced to listen to ideological lectures, sing hymns praising the Chinese Communist Party and write ‘self-criticism’ essays.” He said survivors told of sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, beatings and torture. [Source]

An editorial in The Guardian called on the rest of the world to more forcefully condemn the camps:

According to Beijing, these are students receiving free accommodation, skills training, and lessons in Chinese language and law.

This doesn’t explain the barbed wire, the purchases of stun guns or the accounts of political indoctrination, punishment for speaking anything but Mandarin, harsh conditions, and abuses amounting in some cases to torture. People have reportedly been detained for having verses from the Qur’an on their phone or family members abroad. There are suggestions that more inmates are now leaving the camps, but perhaps for house arrest or forced labour. Meanwhile, all-encompassing surveillance and intense repression envelop the region.

[…] True, the US has stepped up criticism, saying it would consider targeted measures against individuals responsible for rights violations. Britain was among a few western nations in Geneva calling for immediate release of those detained without due process, and urging that the UN is given access – as its rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, has repeatedly requested. These demands should be made much more loudly, and far more broadly. The camps are China’s shame; the indifference is the world’s. [Source]

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