GENEVA (Reuters) – France and Germany have called on China to close “re-education camps” in its restive far western region of Xinjiang where up to one million Uighurs and other Muslims are thought to be held for political indoctrination as pressure grows for UN action.
Reports of mass detentions and strict surveillance of the Turkic minority in Xinjiang have sparked a growing international outcry since coming to light last month.
Beijing says Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists. Officials deny mistreating Muslims there, instead saying they are putting some people through “vocational” style courses to prevent militancy spreading.
China has blamed a group called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement for many of the attacks in recent years in Xinjiang, though some experts have questioned whether the group exists in any coherent form.
The calls by European powers at the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday coincided with the first side-event held on the politically sensitive issue.
“What we are seeing now in East Turkestan is more than just repression, it is an intentional campaign of assimilation by the Chinese government targeting the Uighur identity,” Dolkun Isa, president of the exiled World Uyghur Congress, told the panel.
A Chinese flag flies over a local mosque recently closed by authorities as an ethnic Uighur woman sells bread at her bakery in Kashgar, Xinjiang province, China, on June 28, 2017. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
The news out of Xinjiang, China’s western region, this summer has been a steady stream of Orwellian horrors. A million people held against their will in political reeducation camps. Intelligence officials assigned as “adopted” members of civilian families. Checkpoints on every corner and mandatory spyware installed on every device.
The targets of this police state are China’s Muslim Uighur minority, whose loyalties the central government has long distrusted for both nationalist and religious reasons. An already uneasy relationship deteriorated further in 2009, when Uighur protests led to violent riots and a retaliatory crackdown. Hundreds died in the clashes or were disappeared by security forces in their aftermath. Since then, a handful of deadly terrorist attacks outside of Xinjiang itself have served to justify increasingly heavy restrictions on the group’s rights and freedoms.
At least five ethnic Uyghur professors from one of the top universities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are being held in political “re-education camps,” according to one of their former colleagues and an official with the school who confirmed their detentions.
Qutluq Almas, a former lecturer at Xinjiang University in the XUAR capital Urumqi living in exile in the U.S., recently posted a message on social media saying sources inside the region had confirmed to him that literature professors Abdukerim Rahman, Rahile Dawut, Azat Sultan and Gheyretjan Osman were detained in January, while former language professor Arslan Abdulla was arrested later.
“According to credible information I have received, [Rahman] is currently held in a so-called ‘re-education camp,’” Almas said of the academic, who is in his 80s.
“I don’t know what his situation is at the moment.”
Dawut, Sultan and Osman were taken to camps as well, he added, although he did not provide information on when they were arrested.
Immigration authorities in Turkey are holding an ethnic Uyghur woman from northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), citing a “problem” with her Chinese passport, according to her husband, who worries she could face detention in a political “re-education camp” if sent home.
Rushengul Tashmuhemmet was detained by passport control officers at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport after arriving there by plane from Kazakhstan’s Almaty city with her young son at around 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, she told RFA’s Uyghur Service by telephone.
“They stopped me here at the airport, saying my passport has a problem,” she said, adding that authorities had not informed her of the specific issue with her documents.
“Please help. I am sitting here with my son and I pray that one day I will be reunited with the rest of my family.”
Tashmuhemmet had been living in Almaty with her husband Omurbek Eli, a 41-year-old Kazakh national of mixed Uyghur and Kazakh heritage from the XUAR, and the couple’s three children.
Eli was arrested by police in the XUAR’s Turpan (in Chinese, Tulufan) prefecture in 2017 while visiting his parents and accused of “terrorist activities.” He was refused legal representation and imprisoned for more than seven months, despite never having been tried by a court of law.
Amina Allahberdi, a 32-year-old Uyghur woman from Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture, in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) married Saudi Arabian national Sait Ibn Abood Shahrani in 2010 and relocated to Saudi Arabia’s Khamis Mushait city soon after. The mother of a nine-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son frequently visited her family in Aksu, and in 2016 completed a months-long beautician course in the XUAR capital Urumqi with the intention of setting up a beauty salon in Saudi Arabia. Allahberdi travelled to Urumqi on May 15 last year, after Saudi authorities asked that she return to the XUAR to renew her documents before establishing her business. Soon after arriving, Allahberdi notified her husband that she would not be allowed to renew her passport unless he came to China with additional documentation, so the couple met in the Guangdong provincial capital Guangzhou, where she took her marriage certificate and other papers, and left for Urumqi without him—insisting that he not accompany her.
When Shahrani did not hear from his wife, he spent one month in Guangzhou trying to track down her whereabouts, but was forced to return home to Saudi Arabia to care for the couple’s two children. He recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that he learned Allahberdi is being held in one of a network of political “re-education camps,” where authorities in the XUAR are believed to have detained some 1.1 million Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious” or “politically incorrect” views since April 2017. Allahberdi’s mother, Ayshem Mijit, who also lives in Saudi Arabia, told RFA that her daughter is just the latest of her family members to disappear in the XUAR. Also missing, she said, are her 34-year-old son, Abdurahman Allahberdi; 31-year-old son, Abdurehim Allahberdi; 62-year-old husband, Allahberdi Ibrahim; and 84-year-old father.
Nearly 3,000 children from a Uyghur-populated county in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) whose parents have been taken to political re-education camps are being held in so-called Little Angel Schools, where they take classes, Uygur sources said.
Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious” or “politically incorrect” views have been detained in camps throughout the XUAR, where members of the mostly Muslim ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under rule from Beijing.
The children left without guardians after their parents were detained have meanwhile been sent to live in overcrowded facilities in the region which they are not free to leave, sources say.
Speaking in a recent phone interview with RFA’s Uyghur Service, the ruling Chinese Communist Party Secretary for Hotan prefecture’s Keriye county said that about 2,000 children ages 4 to 14 are now being held in one five-story county school, with another 300 to 500 held in a four-story school in Keriye’s Yengibagh town.
“They are called Little Angels Schools,” he said.
“One school was built over a year ago, and the second one was completed four months ago, as the first school became too overcrowded,” the official said.
Another building has been discovered as a “transformation through education” camp in Xinjiang.
As hundreds of Muslims of various ethnicities continue to be detained, Chinese authorities are working on creating more and more spaces to hold them. Bitter Winter has recently reported about a school in Nilka county, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, which was converted in a camp. A camp in Kyrgyz Autonomous region is being passed off as a vocational training center.
Dolkun Isa, the president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and Omer Kanat, chairman of the WUC Executive Committee, paid a brief visit to Washington on Monday, amid growing U.S. government concern for the Chinese government’s treatment of the roughly 11 million Uyghurs living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). The United Nations, human rights groups and independent experts estimate that China is holding a million Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in political re-education camps in the XUAR. The camps, whose existence China has indirectly acknowledged while claiming they are vocational training facilities and disputing the numbers incarcerated, has prompted calls by U.S. lawmakers for targeted sanctions against select Chinese government officials. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that The Trump administration is considering sanctions against Chinese senior officials and companies to punish Beijing’s detention of Uyghurs and other minority Muslims in internment camps. Alim Seytoff, director of RFA’s Uyghur Service, spoke to the two leaders of the Munich-based WUC, which lobbies for the interests of Uyghurs, after their discussions at the White House about the situation in Xinjiang. Isa, 51, learned in July that his mother died on May 17 at the age of 78 in one of the camps. He refers to Xinjiang as East Turkestan, the Uyghurs’ preferred name for their homeland.
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Condemn the PRC’s Arbitrary Detentions and Human Rights Abuses in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region
The rights of Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are being abused. The US Congress has heard testimony and reviewed evidence the government of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) has arbitrarily imprisoned one million or more people in re-education camps. Furthermore, the PRC government has passed laws and regulations severely limiting their ability to travel, ended instruction in their native languages, and prohibits private religious instruction or gatherings.
Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been jailed or detained in political re-education camps throughout the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule. Turghunjan Tursun, a Uyghur from Yarkand (in Chinese, Shache) county, in the XUAR’s Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture, recently said in a video posted to social media that more than a dozen of his family members, including his wife and young sons, have been detained in the camps because he has been living since 2014 in Turkey—one of more than 20 countries blacklisted by China’s government because of the perceived threat of religious extremism. Tursun provided further details about his family members in a recent interview with RFA’s Uyghur Service and said that while he initially held back from discussing their cases for fear of further reprisals against his relatives in the XUAR, he decided to come forward with his story because he has nothing left to lose.
RFA: Could you tell us about your claims in the video you have posted on social media regarding the tragic story of your family?
Tursun: I arrived in Turkey in June 2014 and since then, my wife, my four sons, and my sisters and brothers have all been arrested. They were arrested simply because I am living in Turkey.
My eldest son, Abdushukur, is 23 years old. He was arrested in Guangzhou in September 2015. My wife, Arzigul Tursun, was arrested in Yarkand county’s Egechi Bazar with my two young sons, aged five and seven. My seven-year-old son’s name is Seytulla and my five-year-old son is named Mujayit. Another son is Alimjan, and he was arrested in Yarkand county’s Yarkand Bazar. My five- and seven-year-old sons were separated from their mother after she was arrested and I don’t know where they are now, or if they are even still alive. None of them have committed any crimes, and neither have I, but even if I wanted to return to my homeland, it is impossible now.