Torchlight Uyghur Group
Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo made a name for himself with his repressive style of rule as party secretary of Tibet from 2011 to 2016. Since his transfer to the Uyghur region in August this year, his tactics have become only more brutal.
Since taking the reins in Xinjiang, Quanguo has launched new polices targeting the religious freedom and cultural identity of the Uyghurs and intensified existing policies like the Communist Party’s “strike hard” campaign against Uyghur.
Chen Quanguo effectively considers all Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang as political threats and “undependable” because of their distinct religious and ethnic identities. The political re-education camps that have popped up in almost every district of Xinjiang that currently detain tens of thousands of Uyghurs are the brainchild of 62-year-old Quanguo. His strike even harder approach in Xinjiang may have helped secure his current seat on the CCP’s 19th Politburo, further cementing his influence in the regime.
In March, the Xinjiang CCP issued the ?????????????? (Regulation on Counterextremism in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region). The regulation requires a massive campaign against politically “untrustworthy” and “incorrect” people plagued by “ideological illness” because of their religious and national identities. The “re-education” camp that detain people from almost every Uyghur city are part of Quanguo’s effort to cure Uyghurs of that “ideological illness” that he sees as their religious and ethnic identity so that they may be more easily assimilated and controlled.
The Chinese government often embellishes its brutal campaigns against Uyghurs with seemingly benign labels. The party has used various politically correct names for the re-education camps, including ???????? (Education and Transformation Centers), Career Development Centers, Professional Education Schools, Socialism Training Schools, and Counter-extremism Training Schools.
An official explained the frequent change in labeling, saying “obviously, the reason or changing the name is to avoid giving others a bad impression“.
CCP Propaganda about the “re-education” camps
Even when the rest of the world wasn’t sure about the existence of the re-education camps, government agencies in Xinjiang were broadcasting propaganda to convince the public of the important role of the camps in maintaining stability in the region. An audio broadcast by the CCP Propaganda Department of Xinjiang has a male Uyghur announcer explain the camps:
Going to a re-education and transformation center is a free opportunity for the ideologically infected to receive treatment and cure their disease. Young friends, how are you? I am very pleased to share my views on this topic. Following the recent strengthening of the strike hard campaign, some of the people in Xinjiang – mainly younger people – have been sent to re-education and transformation centers. But their parents, relatives, and even the majority of Uyghurs don’t know about the re-education and transformation centers and worry about it. Today, we’ll answer the questions you’ve been wondering about.
- The people sent to the re-education and transformation center are actually ideologically diseased people infected with ideas of religious extremism and violent terrorism – so they have to be treated.
- In order to cure ideologically diseased people in time and guarantee the effectiveness of the treatment, the CCP of Xinjiang decided to set up re-education and transformation camps in every prefecture, city and county all over Xinjiang. The government has organized special officials to teach the people the laws and regulations of the country and the autonomous region, the ethnic and religious policies, various beneficial party policies, and the state language – Chinese.
First, the government will clarify what is wrong and what is right, what they should do and what they should not do. The government assures the people that it will exterminate any impact of religious extremism and violent ideas. It will ensure that those who are ideologically infected will regain their ideological health and return to their homes to reunite with their family members after their minds have been cleaned from harmful ideas.
Second, an ideological illness is as dangerous as physical illness. So it must also be cured at once. We should never postpone the treatment of ideological illness. Otherwise it would deteriorate and threaten our lives. Otherwise we won’t have even enough time to regret. Some may say
“I only had a one-time experience of listening to or watching a religious preaching or violent extremism audio or video. I recognized my wrong and won’t listen to or watch it again. I have so many important things to do, so can I not go to the re-education and transformation center?”.
Some may say the stay at the re-education and transformation center is too long, can’t it be shorter? The answer to those questions are NO. An infection of religious and violent extremism is serious. If anyone escapes from treatment, he will throw himself and society in danger.
Re-education and transformation centers are special hospitals to cure ideological illnesses. The hospital is free, and food and housing is provided. The government built new re-education centers all over Xinjiang to provide the conditions to educate and change the people. The government has appointed a lot of key officials as doctors to these hospitals to treat ideological illness.
Family members of re-educated people, don’t worry. Nobody will be left hungry at the re-education centers. There is no cold, no labor, but there is rare and free opportunity for people to be trained so that they may change. The government’s guarantees to re-educate the people and after that they will live normal lives like others.
The audio is available through various government propaganda offices in Xinjiang.
Targets: The detainees at the camps
According to local officials, the superior agencies have ordered that half of the Uyghur populations in the south be detained if they exhibit the following behaviors:
- Ideological illness
- Politically incorrect views
- Extremist ideas
- Harboring extremist and politically incorrect views
- Recent travel abroad
“Five kinds of suspicious people have been detained and sent to re-education camps – people who throw away their mobile phone’s SIM card or do not use their mobile phone after registering it; former prisoners; blacklisted people; suspicious people who have some fundamental religious sentiment; and the people who have relatives abroad,” a female police officer from far western Xinjiang told RFA.
Chinese auhtorities have formed an official grading standard using those abstract notions to determine their targets. Uyghurs are scored according to their religious background, political views, and other factors. Those who get a score under 60 are considered dangerous and are sent to the camps.
The majority of those targeted are Uyghurs. Other Turkic minorities have also been targeted, but no Han Chinese have been the subject of China’s “re-education” efforts in Xinjiang. Earlier this month, local officials in Xinjiang told RFA that thousands of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities – including Kyrgyz and Kazakhs – are being held in re-education camps without contact with their families under a policy designed to counter extremism in the region.
Sources believe there are virtually no ethnic Han Chinese held in the Xinjiang re-education camps, despite Han Chinese making up the majority of Xinjiang’s population. Those sources also indicate that the number of detainees in southern Xinjiang – where there are higher concentrations of Uyghurs – significantly exceed that of the northern part of the region.
The “politically unreliable”
“The Chinese authorities are holding people at these ‘political education’ centers not because they have committed any crimes, but because they deem them politically unreliable”.
Since April, Uyghurs who have traveled abroad have been accused of harboring “extremist” and “politically incorrect” have been detained in re-education camps throughout Xinjiang until they admit that they committed a “wrong” by leaving the country.
“I learned through my work that among the detainees [from my district] 13 people were held for traveling abroad with a tourist company, “ said ___. “One person had gone on hajj to Mecca two years ago, and two others had studied in Turkey for a short time before returning home”.
Anyone with a religious background may be targeted, including religious teachers, imams, and youth who learn to practice their religion at home..
One official from Aksaray’s Number Two village in Hotan said that officers are to “target people who are religious – for example younger men who sport beards”
A family of four Uyghurs –including two children – were taken to a political education facility in western Xinjiang in April for traveling abroad for business and for the Hajj, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
Xinjiang authorities also imprisoned an Uyghur man after accusing him of “religious extremism” for scolding his son for drinking alcohol.
Life inside the camps
Those detained in the camps are treated like criminals and are not free to see their family members. They are interrogated by police and face imprisonment if they do not comply with the rules and regulations of the camp. And they have no legal protections.
Those who have actual physical illnesses are kept inside the camps instead of being sent to hospitals. The local authorities keep them busy with labor and aren’t concerned about the needs of the people, aside from the very basic necessities like food and sleep. Some elderly Uyghurs and children have died because they were left without the care of their loved ones who were sent to the camps.
Those at the camp are forced to learn CCP ideology. The government has set up classrooms in addition to interrogation rooms and barracks inside the camps. The instructors and other staff, like the “students” at these “re-education” camps who are essentially prisoners, live inside the camp and share the same courtyard with the detainees. The centers’ main gates are guarded 24 hours a day and instructors are required to obtain permission before leaving the facility.
Those who fail to actively learn the political ideology force fed to them at the camp face imprisonment. It’s these kinds of extreme measures that suggest the true aim of the camps are not to educate as much as it is to strip the detainees of their Uyghur identity and force them to accept a Chinese identity.
“During the re-education, they will say ‘Yes, it was a mistake to travel abroad, when the Party and government have created such a high living standard in our own country; we were ungrateful – we were ungrateful when we decided to go elsewhere.”
One official was instructed during a web conference in June that 80 percent of those arrested in re-education camps were to be “severely punished,” including those with “extreme views.”
While the number of those detained cannot be adequately confirmed, almost all sources indicate mass detentions and extrajudicial imprisonment are becoming the norm in Xinjiang. RFA has reported that nearly half of the Uyghurs in Hotan have been targeted for re-education camps.
The camps in Ghulja county , Ili Kazakh prefecture and Korla City hold at least 3600 detainees each, local officials told RFA’s Uyghur Service. Those camps are run under the label of “career development centers” to mask their true nature.
According to one of the teachers in a re-education camp in Ghulja City, there are five camps in a just one of Ghulja’s countries – Turpanyuzi.
“There are 30 to 50 students in each class, so I estimate the total number of people who are undertaking the re-education program [across the county] to be at least 1,500.”
Sources in Bayin’gholin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture’s Korla city, where Uyghurs have previously protested house raids during China’s “strike hard” anti-terrorism campaigns, told RFA that the municipality has three re-education camps with at least 2,100 detainees. A “socialism institute” in the municipality detains more than 40 religious figures.
A Kazakh source close to the Urumqi police department said that “they have to detain 3000 Kazakhs or Uyghurs per week.”
An uncertain future in the camps
We have been unable to reach anyone who has been released from these camps. Some officials told RFA “students are not allowed to leave the camp until they have completed the full program, but the length of the training is unclear – the rules only say that the program is complete once a satisfactory level has been achieved.”
“I have been teaching for the last six months, but there is no one in my class who has completed the course and no one knows when the training will end.”
“Nobody knows how long the ‘closed education’ lasts. First of all, the detainees are interrogated by the police, and then they are sent to different education camps.”
“A few people were released after two to three months. But most detainees sent to the camps remain indefinitely.”? ?
Rights Organizations Call China to release detainees
Most observers believe that The Chinese government’s aim is to streamline ideology in an area it perceives to be troubled by radical violence and Uyghur nationalist rights movements and perhaps even erase the western region’s connections with outside world.
Frances Eve, researcher at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, the ramped up suppression in Xinjiang will likely continue past the Party Congress’s because it appears Chen was brought to Xinjiang to replicate the heavy-handed tactics he used in Tibet.
<<Using this sledgehammer approach to counter-terrorism and ethnic-minority policy making is extremely misguided. It violates the civil and political rights of ethnic Uyghurs and does nothing to address the serious economic and social gaps between Han Chinese [the national majority] and Uyghurs,”
The lack of a response from the international community is somewhat surprising in the face of mounting evidence of the re-education camps.
“The U.N. can request the Chinese government allow its independent special experts or the High Commissioner on Human Rights to visit the region, and governments should put more pressure on China to allow journalists and other groups into the region to independently report on the situation,”
The New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch called on the Chinese government to free the thousands of Xinjiang people placed in the camps since April 2017 and close them down.
“The Chinese authorities are holding people at these ‘political education’ centers not because they have committed any crimes, but because they deem them politically unreliable,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.
“It is fair to say that the Chinese government has heightened the repression and discrimination against a particular ethnic group to an extent that seems quite unprecedented,” Maya Wang, Senior Researcher, Asia Division at HRW (21)
“The government has provided no credible reasons for holding these people and should free them immediately,” she added, in an appeal published by Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch said the newly unfolding Xinjiang program called to mind the compulsory ‘re-education’ of hundreds of Tibetans following their return from a religious gathering called the Kalachakra Initiation in India in December 2012 , when Chen Quanguo was Tibet’s Communist Party secretary.
The Xinjiang political education detention centers — where inmates who have not broken any laws are detained extrajudicially, indefinitely and without the knowledge of their families – run contrary to China’s constitution and violate international human rights law, Human Rights Watch noted.