Monday,17 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1406, (16 - 29 August 2018)
Monday,17 June, 2019
Issue 1406, (16 - 29 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

China acts against Uighur Muslims

China’s campaigns of the 1950s have come back to life in its actions against the one million Uighur Muslims held for re-education, according to a UN panel, reports Khaled Dawoud


China acts against Uighur Muslims
China acts against Uighur Muslims

China rejected allegations on Monday raised by a UN panel that said one million Uighur Muslims may be held in internment camps in the restive Xinjiang region of the country, but it said that some people had undergone “re-education after being misled by extremists”.

Hu Lianhe, a senior Communist Party official, said authorities in the far-western Xinjiang region guaranteed citizens freedom of religious belief and protected “normal religious activities.”

China says that Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists who plot attacks and stir up tensions between the mostly Uighur Muslim minority who call the region home and the ethnic Han Chinese majority.

Gay McDougall, a UN panel member, said on Friday it had received many credible reports that one million ethnic Uighurs were being held in what resembled a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy, a sort of no-rights zone”.

“The argument that one million Uighurs are detained in re-education centres is completely untrue,” Hu told the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. “There are no such things as re-education centres” in China, he added.

 Speaking on the second day of the review of China’s record in protecting the rights of its 55 ethnic minorities, Hu accused foreign terrorists and extremists of trying to ignite secessionist forces in Xinjiang, leading to assassinations, arson and poisonings.

He said China had clamped down on such crimes in accordance with the law and did not seek “de-Islamisation” of the region. However, he added that “those deceived by religious extremism... shall be assisted by resettlement and education.”

He said China had imprisoned people for grave crimes, while minor criminals were assigned to vocational training institutions and not subject to arbitrary detention or ill-treatment. He gave no numbers.

Hu also defended some of China’s other strict policies for Muslims. He said burqas, or “masked robes,” were banned among women in Xinjiang to fight extremism and because they were not traditional garments for Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group of Central Asian origin.

Hu touched upon the widespread confiscation of Uighurs’ passports in 2016, including those of women, children and the elderly. Xinjiang “prevents the entry of foreign terrorists and extremists and the exit of internal terrorists and extremists,” Hu said.

UN human-rights experts and Uighur activists voiced dismay at the comments. The panel will issue its final findings on 30 August.

“I notice that you didn’t quite deny that these re-education or indoctrination programmes don’t take place,” McDougall told the Chinese delegation on Monday, seeking clarification on how many people undergo re-education. She told Reuters after the review that “we have quite a long way to go in terms of our dialogue with China.”

Panelist Gun Kut described most of the delegation’s answers as “very defensive,” adding that “I’m sure you didn’t come all the way from China to basically say that everything is okay and there is not much to be done.”

Dolkun Isa, president of the exiled World Uighur Congress who attended the session, voiced his disappointment. “They even denied there are re-education camps. This is not a couple of hundred people – it is more than one million to three million in detention. But the Chinese government just closes its eyes,” he said.

Earlier on Monday the Chinese state-run Global Times newspaper said the country’s security measures in Xinjiang had helped prevent “great tragedy.” It said such measures had stopped Xinjiang from becoming “China’s Syria.”

The detention programme is rooted in the Chinese belief in transformation through education, a policy previously used during China’s Communist Revolution by historic leader Mao Zedong in his “anti-rightist” campaigns.

 In further re-education efforts, the state-run China Islamic Association has instructed all mosques in China to raise the national flag in a prominent position “to promote patriotism.”

 It has also urged mosques and Muslims to study the Chinese constitution, classical Chinese culture, and core socialist values in an attempt to strengthen their concept of the nation. 

The Chinese programme in Xinjiang, the north-western region of China that borders Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan among other countries, has been described by human-rights activists as one of the world’s most-aggressive policing efforts. Security checkpoints and high-tech surveillance cameras are everywhere.  

Xinjiang is an area more than half the size of India that has historically been a majority Muslim region, with the predominant group being the Uighur Muslims.

According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), the policy is designed to counter extremism in the region after increasing numbers of violent attacks in recent years. The Chinese government claims “Islamic extremism” is growing in Xinjiang, but critics say China has exaggerated the threat and is using it as an excuse to crack down on Uighur culture and religion.

The detention campaign has swept across the region, and the camps have been officially termed “professional education schools” where detainees are sent to “receive political education”. People can be detained for any number of reasons, including travelling abroad, having relatives abroad or throwing away their mobile SIM cards.

Conditions in the camps have been described as consisting of endless brainwashing, torture and humiliation. Most people are detained indefinitely, with no contact with their families who are left wondering where they are being held.

In September 2017, the New York-based human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Chinese government to free the thousands of Xinjiang detainees and close down the camps.

Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW, said that “the Chinese authorities are holding people at these ‘political education camps’ not because they have committed any crimes, but because they deem them politically unreliable.” 

Last week, the New York Times reported that one of the best-known experts on Uighur culture, Rahile Dawut, has not been heard from for eight months. Family, friends and others feel sure he is being secretly held in a re-education camp in China.

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