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Xinjiang, land of freedom?

Against mounting evidence, China denies the systematic detention of Uighur minorities

Xinjiang, land of freedom?

Security personnel patrol near a mosque in China’s Xinjiang region. (Ng Han Guan/AP)

For months, international media and human rights activists have sounded an alarm about the internment of at least 1 million ethnic Uighur Muslims in re-education camps in China’s western region of Xinjiang. Last week, a United Nations committee raised the issue for the first time. The committee stated that based on credible reports, the Chinese government has kept ethnic minorities inside a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”

In response, a 49-member delegation from Beijing denied such accusations on Monday at a hearing of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: There are no arbitrary detentions, no torture, and no targeting of any particular ethnicity, the delegation claimed. Ethnic minorities in the region could happily enjoy the freedom of religious beliefs.

“There is no such thing as re-education centers,” said Hu Lianhe, a member of China’s united front work department. He added that only criminals were placed in training and education centers, where he said they learned vocational skills and the Chinese language.

Yet research based on satellite imagery, leaked government documents, local construction contracts, and eyewitness testimony paint a different picture: A network of re-education camps in Xinjiang is growing rapidly, and cities emptied of Uighur men are becoming the norm. Authorities have banned Muslim names, clothing, and beards. They’ve set up surveillance cameras and checkpoints in cities, collected DNA and blood samples, and confiscated passports.

Police have taken more than a million Uighurs and other ethnic minorities without due process and held them in overcrowded re-education centers, where they endure brainwashing, self-criticism, and torture. The number of detainees who have died in the camps is unknown. Last year, 21 percent of all arrests in China were in Xinjiang, an area that makes up only 1.5 percent of the country’s population, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders. (Look for a more detailed report on Xinjiang in an upcoming WORLD Magazine story.)

The Chinese government claims that security measures are needed to calm the restive region, where ethnic tensions led to deadly riots in 2009, along with terrorist attacks. Global Times, a hawkish state-owned paper, claimed China’s policy saved Xinjiang “from the verge of massive turmoil. It has avoided the fate of becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or ‘China’s Libya.’”

The paper claimed the purpose of the international community’s condemnation over China’s treatment of ethnic minorities is “to stir trouble for Xinjiang and destroy the hard-earned stability in the region.” It added: “Xinjiang is at a special stage of development where there is no room for destructive Western public opinions. Peace and stability must come above all else.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, held a hearing last month about the human rights abuses in Xinjiang, likening the situation to “a horrible movie.” He called out U.S. corporations and multinationals who aid repression by selling products to the Chinese government.

“I just think it’s hypocritical for American corporations and multinationals doing business in China—who are fully prepared to boycott American cities and American communities because they don’t like things that are happening here—to be OK to turn a blind eye to what’s happening and not criticize the government of China and the Communist Party because they don’t want to jeopardize their ability to sell products in that country,” Rubio said. “It’s an outrage.”

Death of a missionary: In Kansas City, Mo., a teenager reportedly high on PCP shot and killed Xindong Hao, a Chinese missionary and father of four. Hao’s wife, Laura Hao, told The Kansas City Star that she is trying to forgive the shooter: “There’s always hope. I know God can bring good out of anything no matter how terrible it is.”


Xindong Hao (Handout)