Thousands of terror-linked Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities are being held in Chinese re-education camps without contact with their families under a policy designed to counter extremism and terrorism in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang.
The Uyghur Muslims are a Turkish ethnic minority that practice Islam and reside primarily in China and parts of Central Asia, are responsible for several terrorist attacks and support a Muslim separatist insurgency. For decades, around 11 million Uyghur have been subjected to surveillance, arrest and alleged human rights violations, rights groups say.
China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.
Newsweek More than 120,000 Uyghur Muslims are estimated to be detained in so-called “re-education” centers in China’s Western Xinjiang region, according to human rights groups. Tens of thousands of people are allegedly detained in the city of Kashgar alone. The facilities are reportedly squalid and overcrowded, and inmates are forced to sing songs praising the Chinese Communist Party and renounce their religious beliefs.
The camps are now formally referred to as “Professional Education Schools,” after being called “Socialism Training Schools” and other names since their early 2017 inception as “Counter-extremism Training Schools,” the official said.
CNN Tensions have remained high in Xinjiang — a resource-rich area long inhabited by the Turkic-speaking ethnic Uyghurs — following a spate of violent Islamic attacks in recent years. The Chinese authorities have blamed the incidents on Muslim Uyghur separatists seeking to establish an independent state.
While activists CNN spoke to couldn’t confirm the figure reported by RFA, they say it fits with the increasingly bleak picture for the 10 million Uyghurs in Xinjiang, where the government has been waging unrelenting campaigns against what it calls the forces of “terrorism, separatism and religious extremism.”
Kanat and other human rights advocates describe, citing sources on the ground, how people supposedly prone to influences of Islamic extremism undergo a “brainwashing” process inside the detention camps — often housed in converted schools or government buildings.
Activists say the regional government, now led by a hardline Xi loyalist, has not only continued to arrest and imprison many Uyghurs but also increasingly relied on high-tech tools to keep the population in check. They cite examples ranging from ubiquitous surveillance cameras, to mandatory GPS tracker installation in cars and DNA collection for all residents aged 12 to 65.
The authorities also enacted a sweeping anti-extremism law last year, with long beards, veils in public and home-schooling all on the ban list, prompting new denunciations from international human rights groups.
Amnesty International has said Uyghurs face widespread discrimination in housing, education and employment as well as curtailed religious freedom in their homeland. Other critics have linked the rise of violence in Xinjiang to Beijing’s repressive reign there — a claim the government vehemently denies.
Critics of Beijing’s Uyghur policy see growing persecution in Xinjiang, as the authorities intensify their crackdown and forced political indoctrination spreads. “These campaigns are purportedly about counter-extremism and counterterrorism, but … it’s really about surveillance, control and assimilation,” said Wang, the Human Rights Watch researcher.
“The real intention of the Chinese government is to eliminate the Uyghurs as a distinct ethnic group,” Rebiya Kadeer, a longtime exiled Uyghur leader who recently stepped down as president of the World Uyghur Congress, told CNN in an interview in Washington last year.
“Religious suppression, cultural restrictions, Uyghur language ban — all this repression in Xinjiang only makes the Uyghurs hold on to their identity more firmly,” she added.
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