China has insisted there is no “arbitrary detention” and there are no “re-education centres” in its western Xinjiang region, rejecting concerns raised by a UN human rights committee that more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs may be being held in camps.
- China says there is no suppression of ethnic minorities
- Monitoring groups say Uighurs targeted in surveillance and security campaign
- State media said security presence prevented Xinjiang from becoming another Syria or Libya
- Member of UN committee referred to camps as “no rights zone”
Beijing was responding to questions raised by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
A committee member last week cited estimates that more than 1 million people in China from the country’s Uighur and other Muslim minorities are being held in “counter-extremism centres” and another 2 million have been forced into “re-education camps”.
China’s delegation told the panel that “there is no arbitrary detention … there are no such things as re-education centres”.
It said authorities in Xinjiang have cracked down on “violent terrorist activities”, while convicted criminals are provided with skills to reintegrate themselves into society at “vocational education and employment training centres”.
“The argument that 1 million Uighurs are detained in re-education centres is completely untrue,” Chinese delegate Hu Lianhe said through an interpreter.
He added “there is no suppression of ethnic minorities or violations of their freedom of religious belief in the name of counter-terrorism”.
But he also said “those who are deceived by religious extremism … shall be assisted through resettlement and education”.
Beijing has said Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists who plot attacks and stir up tensions between the mostly Muslim Uighur minority, who call the region home, and the ethnic Han Chinese majority.
But a recent US commission on the crackdown called the situation in Xinjiang province, “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today”.
‘It’s a phase Xinjiang has to go through’: Global Times
In joint editorials in its Chinese and English versions, the widely read Global Times said the increased security was necessary to avoid the region becoming another Syria, adding criticism of the rights record in Xinjiang was aimed at stirring trouble there and destroying hard-earned stability.
“The turnaround in Xinjiang’s security situation has avoided a great tragedy and saved countless lives, thanks to powerful Chinese law and the strong ruling power of the Communist Party of China,” the paper wrote.
“There is no doubt that the current peace and stability in Xinjiang is partly due to the high intensity of regulations. Police and security posts can be seen everywhere in Xinjiang.
“But it’s a phase that Xinjiang has to go through in rebuilding peace and prosperity and it will transition to normal governance.”
Xinjiang has, “no room for destructive Western public opinions” that have destroyed numerous countries and regions, the Global Times said.
“When the same evil influence was spreading in Xinjiang, it was decisively curbed.”
‘Estimates upwards of a million people held in camps’
A Uighur man watches as paramilitary police travel along a street during an anti-terrorism rally in China. (Reuters)
But monitoring groups maintained Uighurs had been targeted in a surveillance and security campaign.
Gay McDougall, a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, cited estimates 2 million Uighurs and Muslim minorities were forced into “political camps for indoctrination” in the western Xinjiang autonomous region.
She referred to the camps as a “no rights zone”.
“There are estimates that upwards of a million people are being held in so-called counter-extremism centres,” she said.
“Another 2 million have been forced into so-called re-education camps for political and cultural indoctrination.”
Ms McDougall said members of the Uighur community and other Muslims were being treated as “enemies of the state” solely on the basis of their ethno-religious identity.
More than 100 Uighur students who returned to China from countries including Egypt and Turkey were detained, with some dying in custody, she said.
The allegations came from multiple sources, including activist group Chinese Human Rights Defenders, which said in a report last month 21 per cent of all arrests recorded in China in 2017 were in Xinjiang.
Bordered by eight countries including the former Soviet Central Asian republics, Xinjiang is China’s largest province. (Supplied: Google Maps)
A Human Rights Watch report said efforts to snuff out the “outside influences” and “religious extremism” — recently enabled by high-tech mass surveillance technologies — had developed into a campaign far broader and much more arbitrary against anyone suspected of political disloyalty, which in Xinjiang could mean any Uighur, particularly those who express, even peacefully, their religious or cultural identity.
Some Uighurs found their way into the ranks of Islamist militias in Syria and Iraq, believing by obtaining military training and international jihadist solidarity, they would be able to one day take the fight back to Xinjiang.
“But China maintains a choke hold on Xinjiang’s entry and exit points, and this strategy is no threat to Beijing’s rule — certainly not one that could justify today’s crackdown,” David Brophy, a senior lecturer in modern Chinese history at the University of Sydney, told ABC.
In today’s Xinjiang, growing a beard, praying regularly, or contacting people overseas could all lead to one being sentenced to prison or sent to the so-called “re-education camps” to undergo “thought transformation through education”, the report said.
China’s Foreign Ministry was yet to respond to a request for comment on the United Nations report.
A screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hotan in western China’s Xinjiang region. (AP: Ng Han Guan, File)