Human Rights Watch: Muslim minority in China's Xinjiang face "political indoctrination"
The Turkic mostly Muslim Uighur minority in China’s Xinjiang region face arbitrary detentions, daily restrictions on religious practice and "forced political indoctrination" in a mass security crackdown, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
The United Nations human rights panel said in August that China is believed to be holding up to 1 million ethnic Uighurs in a secretive system of "internment camps" in Xinjiang, in China's far west, where they undergo political education.
Beijing has denied that such camps are for "political education" and says they are instead vocational training centres, part of government initiatives to bolster economic growth and social mobility in the region.
China has said that Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists who plot attacks and stir up tensions between Uighurs who call the region home and the ethnic Han Chinese majority.
Uighurs and other Muslims held in the camps are forbidden from using Islamic greetings, must learn Mandarin Chinese and sing propaganda songs, according to a report by Human Rights Watch based on interviews with five former camp detainees.
China's Uighur heartland turns into security state
China says it faces a serious threat from Islamist extremists in its Xinjiang region. Beijing accuses separatists among the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority of stirring up tensions with the ethnic Han Chinese majority. By Nadine Berghausen
Economy or security? China routinely denies pursuing repressive policies in Xinjiang and points to the vast sums it spends on economic development in the resource-rich region. James Leibold, an expert on Chinese ethnic policy says the focus on security runs counter to Beijing's goal of using the OBOR initiative to boost Xinjiang's economy, because it would disrupt the flow of people and ideas
China's far western Xinjiang region ramps up security: three times a day, alarms ring out through the streets of China's ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar and shopkeepers rush out of their stores swinging government-issued wooden clubs. In mandatory anti-terror drills conducted under police supervision, they fight off imaginary knife-wielding assailants
One Belt, One Road Initiative: an ethnic Uighur man walks down the path leading to the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamakan Desert. A historic trading post, the city of Kashgar is central to China's "One Belt, One Road Initiative", which is President Xi Jinping's signature foreign and economic policy involving massive infrastructure spending linking China to Asia, the Middle East and beyond
China fears disruption of "One Belt, One Road" summit: a man herds sheep in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. China's worst fears are that a large-scale attack would blight this year's diplomatic set piece, an OBOR summit attended by world leaders planned for Beijing. Since ethnic riots in the regional capital Urumqi in 2009, Xinjiang has been plagued by bouts of deadly violence
Ethnic minority in China: a woman prays at a grave near the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamankan Desert. Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking distinct and mostly Sunni Muslim community and one of the 55 recognised ethnic minorities in China. Although Uighurs have traditionally practiced a moderate version of Islam, experts believe that some of them have been joining Islamic militias in the Middle East
Communist Party vows to continue war on terror: Chinese state media say the threat remains high, so the Communist Party has vowed to continue its "war on terror" against Islamist extremism. For example, Chinese authorities have passed measures banning many typically Muslim customs. The initiative makes it illegal to "reject or refuse" state propaganda, although it was not immediately clear how the authorities would enforce this regulation
CCTV cameras are being installed: many residents say the anti-terror drills are just part of an oppressive security operation that has been ramped up in Kashgar and other cities in Xinjiang's Uighur heartland in recent months. For many Uighurs it is not about security, but mass surveillance. "We have no privacy. They want to see what you're up to," says a shop owner in Kashgar
Ban on many typically Muslim customs: the most visible change is likely to come from the ban on "abnormal growing of beards," and the restriction on wearing veils. Specifically, workers in public spaces, including stations and airports, will be required to "dissuade" people with veils on their faces from entering and report them to the police
Security personnel keep watch: authorities offer rewards for those who report "youth with long beards or other popular religious customs that have been radicalised", as part of a wider incentive system that rewards actionable intelligence on imminent attacks. Human rights activists have been critical of the tactics used by the government in combatting the alleged extremists, accusing it of human rights abuses
People in Xinjiang with relatives living abroad in one of 26 "sensitive countries", including Kazakhstan, Turkey and Indonesia, have been targeted by the authorities and are often held for several months, without any formal procedure, the group said.
Punishments for refusing to follow instructions in the camp could mean being denied food, being forced to stand for 24 hours or even solitary confinement, it said.
Security conditions in Xinjiang outside the camps had also intensified markedly and now bear "a striking resemblance to those inside", Hong Kong-based Human Rights Watch researcher Maya Wang said, based on interviews with 58 former Xinjiang residents now living abroad.
Wang and her team only spoke with people who had left Xinjiang due to a lack of access to the region and to avoid endangering those still living there.
New security measures described by interviewees include proliferating checkpoints that make use of facial recognition technology and sophisticated police monitoring systems, such as each house having a QR code that, when scanned, shows the authorities who the approved occupants are.
Monitoring of Islamic religious practices, such as asking people how often they pray and the closure of mosques, as well as regular visits by party officials to rural parts of Xinjiang, mean that practicing Islam "has effectively been outlawed," Wang said. (Reuters)