After more than a year of denying the existence of political “re-education camps” in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), a vast buildout of a system housing as many as a million Uyghurs has forced Beijing to acknowledge the facilities and justify them to the international community, according to a camp researcher based in Canada.
Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout the XUAR, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
While Beijing initially denied the existence of such camps, the Uyghur chairman of Xinjiang’s provincial government, Shohrat Zakir, told China’s official Xinhua news agency earlier this month that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uyghurs.
According to Zakir, Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims in the region are taught Mandarin at the camps, as well as important vocational skills and lessons on Chinese law, all while being provided with free meals in comfortable living conditions, and that they are free to come and go as they like.
Reporting by RFA and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout northwest China’s 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. Sources say detainees routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers in the camps and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities. Beijing, which initially denied the existence of such camps, now says they are part of the fight against extremism and also work to provide Uyghurs vocational training. An officer at a police station in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service about the conditions at a camp where he worked as a guard for 10 months. In the third part of the interview, the officer—who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal—describes how the ban on religious practices in the camp affects bedtime, and even the specific language detainees can use when talking with family members.
On state television, the vocational education centre in China’s far west looked like a modern school where happy students studied Mandarin, brushed up their job skills, and pursued hobbies such as sports and folk dance.
But earlier this year, one of the local government departments in charge of such facilities in Xinjiang’s Hotan prefecture made several purchases that had little to do with education: 2,768 police batons, 550 electric cattle prods, 1,367 pairs of handcuffs, and 2,792 cans of pepper spray.
“I consider Abdukerim Rahman an outstanding folklorist, the best in his generation.”
These words, written in an email to RFA’s Uyghur Service by Dr. Ildikó Bellér-Hann of the Department of Cross-cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen, may in fact be an understatement.
Rahman, born 1941 in Kashgar, is considered by many to be the founder of Uyghur Folklore studies. He had an impressive career of more than 50 years at Xinjiang University and as a loyal member of the Communist Party, was often celebrated by the Chinese government for his academic contributions.
Many Uyghurs were shocked when in January 2018, he and other literature professors were detained by the government.
Last month an RFA source confirmed that he had been punished for being “two-faced”—a term applied by the government to Uyghur cadres who pay lip service to Communist Party rule, but secretly chafe against state policies repressing members of their ethnic group.
China is aggressively seeking to dominate the Internet of Things and plans to use access to billions of networked electronic devices for intelligence-gathering, sabotage, and business purposes, according to a forthcoming congressional report.
China for nearly a decade has been investing heavily in the emerging technology on the Internet of Things (IoT) and has made outpacing similar U.S. efforts one of the ruling Communist Party of China’s highest strategic goals.
Academics, journalists and rights groups have recently documented the accelerating repression of the 11-million strong Uyghur population living in Xinjiang, a spacious, strategic and resource-rich northwestern borderland of China. The burgeoning security apparatus, ubiquitous surveillance, gathering of biometrics, the use of big data, and similar technological features of Chinese authoritarianism have invited comparisons of Xinjiang to an open-air prison or to the dystopian visions captured in Orwell’s 1984 or Zamyatin’s We.
The securitisation of the Xinjiang policy under Xi Jinping reveals several “new circumstances”. A stable Xinjiang is essential for China’s vital energy security infrastructure and expansive foreign initiatives, such as Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In contrast to previous administrations, the Xi leadership has resolved to treat the “Xinjiang problem” as a primarily ethnic issue stemming from insufficient integration of the Uyghur community. On the national scale, the Xi leadership’s growing concerns with maintaining the power of the Communist Party of China (CPC) have triggered a massive consolidation of the party-state apparatus and attacks on potentially subversive constituencies such as ethnic minorities, religious groups, lawyers and rights activists, and journalists. The security push is also enabled by adopting new technologies, many of which are being tested in Xinjiang on Uyghurs and which the CPC expects to turn China into a 21st century cyber-power.
In the current crackdown in East Turkestan (aka Xinjiang), the Chinese authorities have made Uyghur intellectuals a principal target. A new report from the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) entitled “The Persecution of the Intellectuals in the Uyghur Region: Disappeared Forever?” details how 231 intellectuals have been forcibly disappeared, interned in political indoctrination camps, removed from their posts or imprisoned since April 2017. The individuals identified by UHRP likely represent only a small proportion of those impacted.
UHRP’s Director Omer Kanat will present the findings of the report at the Scholars at Risk event “A Year in Attacks on Higher Education,” at the NYU School of Law on October 23rd at 6 pm.
Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have jailed the Uyghur former host of a popular children’s television show, according to sources, who said he was targeted for producing a program that detailed the financial struggles of three young students.
A source with ties to the XUAR recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that Erkin Tursun, the host of the “Hopeful Eyes” show on the official Ili Television Station in the XUAR’s Ili Kazakh (in Chinese, Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture, was arrested by police in Ghulja (Yining) county in March and later sentenced to as many as 11 years in prison.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that after Tursun produced a program last year to public acclaim entitled “The World is Beautiful and Filled With Love and Care”—documenting the bid by three Uyghur children to attain an education in the face of poverty— “Hopeful Eyes” was shut down and he became the key figure in an investigation by local authorities.
A staff member at Ili Television Station told RFA that “there is no such person working here,” when asked about Tursun, but said that further details were “inconvenient to discuss over the phone” and suggested that the interviewer make inquiries in person.
But an employee at Ghulja county’s Hudiyaryuz township police department, which a source told RFA had orchestrated Tursun’s arrest, confirmed that the television producer had been taken into custody, although he said it was by police from a neighboring township.
“The Jiliyuz Police Department,” the employee said when asked who was involved in Tursun’s arrest, adding that he had later been turned over to authorities in Ghulja city.
As noted in recent media accounts, the government of the People’s Republic of China has engaged in the intimidation of US citizens and conducted influence operations on US soil with almost complete impunity. We request the FBI to immediately establish an anonymous tip line and/or website to counter brazen Chinese government threats and influence operations on US soil. Furthermore, we request the FBI publish clear guidelines for actionable tips.
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