Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are temporarily releasing Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities from political “re-education camps” who have demonstrated “good behavior” in detention, according to sources.
Zulfukar Ali, a Uyghur activist living in exile in Turkey, recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that he had suddenly been contacted via video chat by a relative in the XUAR’s Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture who was detained in one of the camps, after being cut off from communication with his family members for more than two years.
“She told me that she was released to her home for three days,” Ali said of his relative, who is among more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas that are believed to have been held in the XUAR’s network of camps since April 2017.
“She said there were 20 people from each cell released and that they were taken from the camp in handcuffs with a black hood over their heads, which were only removed outside of their homes as they prepared to go inside.”
Ali said his relative—who displayed what he described as “scars” from beatings in detention—suggested she may have been allowed to return home because authorities “received notice of a foreign group visit,” noting that she had previously worked for the government and “understands under what circumstances people would be released.”
The following day, he was unable to speak with her and said he believes she was returned to the camp within 24 hours of her release.
An official who answered the phone at the Kashgar prefectural government office confirmed that authorities had temporarily released at least three detainees from camps in his region since Feb. 12.
“There were some who were only released for a day to see their families, but there isn’t anyone who was permanently freed,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They were escorted to their homes and left with their families for 24 hours, before being taken back. They call this a ‘24-hour home visit.’ That is all we know, we don’t know anything else.”