UPDATE 22. November 2021: Xinjiang footage sheds new light on Uyghur detention camps

UPDATE 19. November 2021: Chinese man releases images of detention centers in Xinjiang

EMERGENCY UPDATE 09. April 2019: Uyghur women FORCED to marry Han Chinese men, then they get RAPED

China Is Detaining This Muslim Minority By The Millions -

Who Are The Uighurs?

In China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, an area with long-simmering unrest between the ethnic Uyghur or Uighurs (pronounced “we-gur”) minority and the Han Chinese majority, the government has detained more than a million members of this and other Muslim groups in what’s been described as a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”

That was the finding of a United Nations panel earlier this month, which cited “credible reports” from the region. Chinese U.N. delegate Hu Lianhe dismissed the reports as “completely untrue,” but he did acknowledge that some Uighurs the government determines to be “deceived by religious extremism” have been “assisted through resettlement and education.”

In other words: They’re being detained and indoctrinated. The only real matter of dispute is just how many of Xinjiang’s roughly 10 million Uighurs have been forcibly “assisted” in this manner.

The internment claims are also supported by other reports from the region. An eye-opening 2017 BuzzFeed News report from Xinjiang described it as a “21st-century police state,” aided by sophisticated facial-recognition technology and pervasive video monitoring via street cameras and surveillance drones. The piece also includes photos of walled-off “political education compounds” adorned with propaganda imploring onlookers to “cherish ethnic unity.”

And a Wall Street Journal report from that time surfaced what appears to be an official rating form used to determine which Xinjiang residents are in need of “resettlement and education.” Uighurs are automatically docked 10 points and start at a disadvantage:

What prompted all this? Here’s what you need to know about China’s Uighurs:

Who are they?

China forcefully annexed East Turkmenistan and calls it now Xinjiang

Most Uighurs (also spelled “Uyghurs” or “Uighers” in Western media) practice Islam and speak a Turkic language that’s completely different from Mandarin Chinese. 

Uighurs share more ethnic and cultural similarities with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia ― China’s northern and western neighbors on the Eurasian Steppe ― than with the rest of China itself. 

“We don’t have any connection with the Chinese. We don’t look Chinese, we don’t speak the same language and we don’t eat the same food,” a Uighur, who asked to be referred to as Billy, told The Telegraph in 2009. “And we are Muslims, we believe in Allah. The Chinese only believe in money.”

The Chinese government considers Xinjiang an “autonomous region,” meaning it has a self-appointed local government. It is not, however, even remotely “autonomous,” despite the name’s implication. (Tibet is also an “autonomous” region).

Xinjiang is also home to a substantial portion of the country’s most valuable natural resources, which at least partially explains China’s interest. In addition to sizable mineral reserves of iron ore and gold, the region claims about 38 percent of the country’s coal reserves and 25 percent of its petroleum and natural gas, according to government figures.

Original Nation States
Original Nation States

What’s the history of the dispute?

The two groups have had a strained relationship since the Xinjiang province was established and brought under Chinese control by the Qing dynasty in 1884. Uighurs declared themselves independent under the Republic of East Turkestan in 1933, but the short-lived state was reabsorbed by China in 1934. They tried again in 1944, identifying as the Second East Turkestan Republic, but were once again reabsorbed in 1949 following the Chinese Communist Party’s takeover of the country.

Beginning in 1955, when Xinjiang became an “autonomous” region, the government has encouraged ethnic Hans to migrate west, luring them with the promise of “hukou” ― a coveted status that facilitates access to essential social services like housing, pensions, health care and education.

The strategy, billed as an effort to modernize the region by Beijing, has been remarkably effective: In 1949, Xinjiang’s Han population comprised just 6 percent of the total. As of the last census in 2010, Han Chinese constituted at least 40 percent of the population; more recent reports put that figure as high as 58 percent.

Our lives are getting worse and worse while theirs are getting better.

“In short, the Party is attempting to dilute Uighur culture and identity by encouraging more interethnic mingling and fusion with the majority Han Chinese,” James Leibold, a professor at Australia’s La Trobe University and an expert on ethnic relations in Xinjiang told the University of Southern California’s U.S.-China Institute in 2016.

Rather than unifying through “fusion,” the government has alienated the Uighurs and built a highly stratified society, making the problem far worse.

“Every year, more and more of them come to Xinjiang,” a Uighur who asked not to be identified told The Telegraph. “That means it’s harder for us to find a job.

“All the work is for the Chinese, anyway. Han-run companies only employ Chinese people and most of the government jobs are for them too. Our lives are getting worse and worse while theirs are getting better.”

Police patrol as Muslims leave the Id Kah Mosque in June 2017 in the old town of Kashgar in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The increasingly strict curbs imposed on the mostly Muslim Uighur population have stifled life in the tense Xinjiang region, where beards are partially banned and no one is allowed to pray in public.
AFP Contributor via Getty Images

China claims they’re terrorists.

Excluded from traditional means of power, facing a large and growing economic gap and ethnic and religious discrimination, factions of this oppressed minority have turned to violence.

In 2009, a peaceful Uighur protest in Xinjiang’s capital city of Urumqi devolved into a deadly race riot. At least 184 people died, most of them Han; 46 of the dead were Uighurs reportedly killed in revenge attacks by club-wielding Han groups. (An additional 1,600 were injured.)

Beijing reacted by deploying 20,000 security officers to the region and detaining more than 1,400 people, according to state media, which praised the response as “proper” and “decisive.” Six Uighur men were sentenced to death for their alleged roles in the violence.

In 2013, a car driven by a Uighur man plowed into a crowd outside the Tiananmen gate in Beijing, killing six, including the vehicle’s three occupants.

In 2014, 33 were killed and another 130 injured after a group of Uighur men armed with knives attacked commuters at a train station in southwest China’s Yunnan Province.

And in 2015, at least 50 people were killed and another 50 injured in a knife attack on a Xinjiang coal mine predominantly staffed by Han workers.

As the violence has escalated, so has the severity of the government’s response. While foreign observers argue Beijing’s crackdown is counterproductive and making a situation of its own creation worse, the government maintains it’s a justified response to terrorism.

As evidence, Chinese officials note that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. detained 22 Uighurs, captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan, at Guantanamo Bay. All were later determined to not pose a threat and relocated, but it was enough for China to use counterterrorism as a cover for its actions, a 2010 congressional research report warned.

“We cannot understand why terrorism, when taking place in other countries, is regarded as terrorism, but ethnic and religious issues when taking place in China,” Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in 2015.

“And we cannot understand why other countries’ counterterrorism acts are justified,” she added, “but China’s counterterrorism actions are so-called repression of ethnic groups.”

But that doesn’t justify China’s response, which is making it worse.

An ethnic Uighur looks at the old town in Kashgar, Xinjiang, in 2017. Per a 2012 Human Rights Watch report, China has ra
An ethnic Uighur looks at the old town in Kashgar, Xinjiang, in 2017. Per a 2012 Human Rights Watch report, China has razed 80 percent of the traditional Uighur neighborhoods in Kashgar “to make way for a new city likely to be dominated by the Han population.” - Thomas Peter / Reuters

Indiscriminate, open-ended mass incarceration. Secret camps. Torture. Food and sleep deprivation. China’s “re-education” centers are on par with some of the worst human rights abuses in history, according to Loyola University professor Rian Thum, who specializes in Uighur history.

“The closest analogue is maybe the Cultural Revolution in that this will leave long-term, psychological effects,” Thum told The Independent. “This will create a multigenerational trauma from which many people will never recover.”

In an article for Foreign Policy, Thum cited reports from police in three Chinese counties that nearly every Uighur born between 1980 and 2000 has been interned, because they belong to an “untrustworthy generation.” The children left behind are now wards of the state, undoubtedly facing an anti-Uighur Chinese assimilation program. In one county alone, the government has built 18 new orphanages in the last year.

“Though we do not know what is happening in each of these facilities, in at least some of these facilities, detainees are subject to waterboarding, being kept in isolation without food and water, and being prevented from sleeping,” said Jessica Batke, a former State Department research analyst, in testimony before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China earlier this summer.

“They are interrogated about their religious practices and about having made trips abroad,” she continued. “They are forced to apologize for the clothes they wore or for praying in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

FREE EAST TURKMENISTAN

China continues to dispute the reports, alternately denying the camps exist at all, or referring to them as “political education” centers, or, in one particularly brazen claim, saying they’re “vocational education and employment training centers.”

Given the locked-down status of the region (Uighurs are reportedly unable to leave the region, and those with family members abroad have been detained because of it), it’s difficult to obtain accurate information. In February, China imprisoned the families of four U.S.-based Uighur journalists at Radio Free Asia, apparently as retribution for their coverage of what’s happening in Xinjiang. Beijing has also expelled a prominent Western journalist known for covering the region.

“If China truly has nothing to hide, then it is past time to allow United Nations experts, independent journalists, diplomats, and other observers free access to the region to examine all such incidents,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.

As for the future of those in the camps themselves, Thum sees horrifying signs:

But questions remain, including the crucial matters of what the internment network is designed to do and what is in store for its victims. The range of interpretations is wide. Local media in Xinjiang present the camps as short-term rehabilitation facilities. Uighurs with family members and friends now gone for six months and more fear much worse. And the appearance of a recruitment notice for 50 “stouthearted” guards at a crematorium outside of Urumqi, the regional capital, has fed fears that the Chinese government is equipped for mass killing.

Read also:

French Journalist Forced To Leave China After Article On Xinjiang

Freedom of religion in China

Freedom of religion in China is provided for in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China,[1] with an important caveat: the government protects what it calls "normal religious activity," defined in practice as activities that take place within government-sanctioned religious organizations and registered places of worship. Although the dynastic governments of imperial China also claimed responsibility for the practice of religion, human rights bodies such as United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) have criticized this differentiation as falling short of international standards for the protection of religious freedom.

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UPDATES:

Xinjiang footage sheds new light on Uyghur detention camps

By William Yang (Taipei) - 22. November 2021

A YouTube video of Xinjiang detention facilities has rekindled concern over China's crackdown on ethnic minorities. Researchers say the videos offer new evidence, but many fear for the vlogger's safety.

People stand in a guard tower on the perimeter wall of the Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center in Dabancheng in western China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

Beijing has described the mass detention of roughly a million or more ethnic minorities in Xinjiang as a 'war against terror'

A 20-minute video featuring more than a dozen detention facilities in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has offered fresh evidence and renewed the discussion around China's large-scale crackdown on ethnic minorities in the region.

The video was filmed by a Chinese man named Guanguan, who went to Xinjiang after reading a series of articles from US news outlet BuzzFeed News, indicating the locations of several detention centers in the region.

His video, which was originally posted to YouTube in October, has attracted the attention of researchers and academics who have been focusing on China's large-scale crackdown on ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. Alison Killing, an architect who worked with BuzzFeed News to create a map of satellite images of the camps, said the new information from the video confirms what they believe to be happening in Xinjiang.

"When you are working with satellite images, you are always relying on other sources of information to corroborate what you are looking at," she told DW. "It can be on-the-ground videos, which is what we see here."

Other forms of corroboration that researchers like Killing rely on include interviews with former detainees and information from journalists who visit the detention facilities. She added that Guanguan's video helps to confirm whether many facilities are prisons or detention centers.

Rayhan Asat, a Uyghur human rights lawyer and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Strategic Litigation Project, said the unfiltered video footage adds to the ongoing documentation of the crackdown that is taking place in Xinjiang and "defeats the state propaganda and disinformation of 'Happy Uyghurs.'"

"I hope more Chinese people like this gentleman will stand up for their fellow citizens," Asat told DW. 

Several detention sites filmed for YouTube

"I visited Xinjiang once in 2019 on a bike trip, but the purpose of my visit this time is completely different," said Guanguan in the video. "I read a story on BuzzFeed News, in which the reporters identified the locations of many detention centers in Xinjiang through cross-comparing satellite imagery."

He followed the Mapbox satellite map created by the news outlet, along with satellite images from China's Baidu Maps service to film 18 detention facilities across eight cities in Xinjiang. While the video was uploaded to his YouTube channel last month, it is believed that he went to Xinjiang and filmed those facilities in 2020, based on his tweets. The EU now comes under pressure to match US action over Xinjiang

"Due to the Chinese government's regulations, it is now very difficult for foreign journalists to gain access to Xinjiang to conduct interviews. I was thinking, while foreign journalists can't go to Xinjiang, I can still go there," he said in the video. 

Guanguan began his trip in the eastern city of Hami, where he drove by the Hami Compulsory Isolated Drug Rehabilitation Center. The building wasn't shown on Baidu Maps, and the bars on the window as well as the barbed wire fencing led him to suspect that the center could be a detention facility. 

Next, he went to the Mori Kazakh Autonomous County in Xinjiang, where he captured footage of a detention center with watchtowers and surrounded by surveillance cameras. He later drove by the Mori County Detention Center. Neither of the facilities were marked on the Baidu map. 

When he arrived at Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, he drove by several facilities with watchtowers and high barbed-wire fences, which are all typical features of detention facilities in Xinjiang. Slogans like "reform through labor and cultural transformation" were also written on the walls of some of the buildings. 

Complexes that can hold 'thousands'

In July, the Associated Press (AP) visited a cell in the Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center in Xinjiang's Dabancheng, describing the facility as "the largest in the country and possibly the world, with a complex that sprawls over 220 acres."

The AP estimated that "the center could hold roughly 10,000 people and many more if crowded, based on satellite imagery and the cells and benches seen during the tour."

Over the last few years, the Chinese government has described the mass detention of roughly a million or more ethnic minorities in Xinjiang as a "war against terror." Uyghurs have reportedly been put into internment camps across Xinjiang and female survivors of the camps have accused the Chinese government of systematically raping or sexually abusing Uyghur women in the camps

Guanguan also mentioned in the video that during his first trip to Xinjiang, some local Han Chinese people told him that a large number of Uyghurs had been moved to other regions as cheap laborers. Even a US electronics firm did strike a deal on Uyghur workers.

Since Guanguan revealed his face in the Xinjiang video, many people have expressed concerns over his safety. In a new video uploaded to his YouTube channel on Friday, Guanguan said he hopes that the footage of the detention facilities can be passed on as evidence. "I don't have the ability to directly challenge the Chinese government, but this is what I can do within the limits of my power," he said.

China defends its Xinjiang policies

Last Wednesday, Xu Guixiang, the spokesperson of the Xinjiang regional government, said that the region has taken " firm, resolute and effective" measures to counter terrorism and made achievements.

Even though there are different voices on Xinjiang's policies on countering terrorism and deradicalization, history will justify them, Xu was quoted as saying by the Chinese state-run Global Times newspaper.  

For those who want to use topics on Xinjiang to interfere in China's domestic affairs, their attempts are doomed to fail, he added.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry also issued a statement the following day.

"I want to stress that Xinjiang-related issues are in essence about countering violent terrorism, radicalization and separatism, not about human rights or religion," the ministry's spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.

"In the face of the grave and complex counterterrorism situation, Xinjiang has taken a host of decisive, robust and effective deradicalization measures. As a result, Xinjiang has seen no violent terrorist case for five years in a row."

Edited by: Leah Carter

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Chinese man releases images of detention centers in Xinjiang

In a stunning video uploaded to YouTube, a man named Guanguan shows footage of 18 different places of detention in the Xinjiang Special Administrative Region, where 1 to 2 million Uighurs are believed to be held.

The video is almost unbelievable in bravado. For twenty minutes, a young Chinese man, who says his name is Guanguan, does not hesitate to appear in front of the camera in a calm tone to describe many plans for detention centers, which he says he shot in 2020 in Xinjiang.

He says he went specifically to the special administrative region in western China, “To search the sites of places of detention of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities” pointed out by experts and foreign media in recent years, tells the site of Radio Free Asia.

Video of cI8bJO-to8I

Between 1 and 2 million Uighurs are said to be detained in “education camps” in Xinjiang, suffering all kinds of physical harassment and intense brainwashing, in detention camps spread across Xinjiang, western China , and of which a map produced by experts was broadcast by Buzzfeed.

Or “Due to restrictions imposed by the Chinese authorities, foreign journalists cannot access Xinjiang”,dit Guanguan. “But I can”, he explains in a video fully subtitled in English.

Visual evidence taken on the ground

Sometimes it’s a simple plaque in Chinese, picked up while driving, that reveals an official detention center on the side of the road. Sometimes, these are buildings precisely marked on the map and found in places indicated by foreign researchers, of which Guanguan takes vivid images: high walls topped with barbed wire, control towers …

Visibly accompanied by a driver, Guanguan captures the images many places of detention identified thanks to the map produced by a collaboration between Buzzfeed et l’Australian Strategy Policy Institute (ASPI) based on satellite images. “In all, it provides visual evidence and shots of 18 different places of detention, plus one abandoned place”, comments Nathan Ruser, from the research center ASPI, in a tweet quoted by the radio.

Impressed by Guanguan’s courage, Alison Killing, architect and geospatial analyst who collaborated on the original map, comments:

It’s really very useful to have images taken at ground level, because it corroborates what we are seeing on satellite and helps us confirm that what we thought we were seeing from above is really very large. ”

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