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China’s re-education camps: Xinjiang

Following years of silence and denial of the existence of their internment camps, the Chinese government released a report addressing the matter on October 16, 2018. Built for the purpose of detaining Uyghur’s – a group of Turkish Muslims – the camps were depicted in the report as a place of study and re-education for individuals who feel they have lost their way. The government state that the aim of arresting citizens and detaining them in camps located in the western province of Xinjiang is to combat acts of terrorism before they have been committed. One detainee said this in the video; “I’d rather not think about where I would be if I weren’t here studying. Maybe I would have joined the religious extremists and become a criminal.”

 However, there have been multiple reports of torture and mistreatment in facilities seemingly designed to erode the ethnic identity of individuals. Evidence from testimonies of detainees that have been released, indicate the inaccuracy and fabrication displayed by the Chinese government in their broadcast. Mihrigul Tursun, 29, a Uyghur woman, spoke to US politicians on her experiences in the camps. She stated, “My hands bled from their beatings. Each time I was electrocuted, my whole body would shake, and I could feel the pain in my veins.” Unfortunately, Mihrigul’s experience is neither isolated or unique, and the United Nations estimates that there are around 2 million Uyghur’s currently being detained in Xinjiang potentially facing similar conditions. Patrick Poon, Amnesty International’s Researcher on China was questioned on the matter. He suggested that, “Many former detainees are afraid to talk about what they experienced in the camps for fear of retaliation against them and their relatives.” 

 For those who remain on the outside, the Chinese government have implemented strict screening processes throughout the province of Xinjiang in order to monitor and seize individuals without trial. Possessing material that expresses the Islamic faith or content that could be seen to threaten the Communist Party of China are some of the reasons why citizens are incarcerated. One woman was arrested for having WhatsApp on her phone, another for having a picture of a girl praying. Men and women are neither informed of their length of imprisonment, nor are they permitted any visitation rights from their families. 

 On October 29, 2019, the UK released a joint statement alongside 22 other countries and addressed the High Commissioner of the United Nations Human Rights Council criticising Beijing for what they described as, “disturbing reports of large-scale arbitrary detentions” and “widespread surveillance and restrictions.” A day later, 37 other countries jumped to Beijing’s defence, praising China’s human rights record and dismissing the reported detention of Uyghur’s in Xinjiang. Nearly half the signatories were Muslim-majority nations, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria and Qatar, raising concerns to the absent solidarity demonstrated from these countries to members of their faith suffering at the hands of the Chinese government.  

 When asked about this matter, Patrick Poon stated, “Many are afraid of making China angry by speaking up for their Muslim brothers and sisters in Xinjiang. It’s a shame to put economic considerations above human rights. They should at least call for China to allow independent access to UN human rights experts to investigate what is happening on the ground in Xinjiang.” Patrick also suggested that, “We must not forget that countries that show support to China are those with records of serious human rights violations.”

There is some room for optimism. Patrick from Amnesty UK notes that, “Due to international pressure, the Chinese government changed its narrative,” first denying the existence of the camps all-together, then claiming they are for “vocational training.” He suggests this pressure can come from the testimonies collected from former detainees discussing their experiences in the camps. Patrick states that “their testimonies help to prove what is really happening in Xinjiang.” 


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03/12/2019

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Hannah Cottrell



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