A move this week by China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) to amend a 2017 counterterrorism law to provide a legal justification for detaining as many as a million Uyghurs in political re-education camps was dismissed on Thursday as misleading and a violation of China’s constitution.
On Tuesday, the XUAR government unveiled new clauses added to an anti-extremism law put into effect in March 2017 to cover what China calls vocational training centers for Uyghurs—but which former guards and inmates describe as detention camps now estimated to hold 10 percent of all Uyghurs.
“Governments above the county level can set up education and transformation organizations and supervising departments such as vocational training centers, to educate and transform people who have been influenced by extremism,” Reuters news agency quoted one of the new clauses as saying.
The move followed mounting international criticism of China for a campaign that began in April 2017 under which Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout the XUAR. 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.
Uyghur exile groups, human rights experts and lawyers say the new measures do nothing to legitimize the camp system and in fact are illegal under Chinese law.
“What the Chinese (government) is doing is illegal on every front: under international law, under their own constitution, under criminal procedures, autonomy law,” said Nury Turkel, a Washington-based lawyer and Uyghur activist.
“This no more than window dressing, no more than misleading the international community, which has been rallying and criticizing the Chinese government,” he told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
The camp system has drawn criticism from the United Nations, human rights groups and the United States, where lawmakers have proposed legislation that would sanction XUAR officials for human rights abuses.
“The media scrutiny is ongoing so the Chinese have to do something to show to the world they have a so-called legal framework and their actions fall within that legal framework,” added Turkel.
“With the new amendment the Chinese government is attempting to legitimize its crimes against humanity,” he said, adding that the original 2017 counterterrorism law is “in and of itself draconian and most brutal.”
‘A mockery of law’
Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress called the amendments “an attempt on the part of the Chinese government to legitimize and justify the extrajudicial detention of one million Uyghurs who have been incarcerated since the spring of 2017.”