China Legislates “Re-education” of Uyghurs
On the 9th, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in western China legislated a “vocational training facility” for Uyghurs who believe in Islam. A large number of Uyghurs have been missing in the autonomous region, causing widespread international concern.
The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region authorities have explained that the facilities will tackle extremism through “severe transformation”.
The new law is the first to detail the Chinese government’s activities in the region.
Examples of actions that could lead to custody include extending the concept of halal (meaning what is permissible in Islam) to areas of life other than food habits, denying access to state television and radio, and denying children access to public education.
According to the Chinese government, detention centers around the country will also provide vocational training, in addition to teaching the official Chinese language and legal concepts.
Human rights groups have criticized the move. Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch said, “Grotesque and massive human rights violations do not deserve the word ‘law.
UN criticizes Chinese government for detaining 1 million Uighurs
Several human rights groups have long said that Uyghurs detained in re-education facilities are forced to pledge allegiance to President Xi Jinping and criticize or renounce their faith.
In August this year, China denied a UN report that it was detaining one million Uighurs.
But a senior Chinese official attending a meeting of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in September admitted that Uighurs “steeped in religious extremism” are being re-educated and re-migrated.
Violence and repression have been frequent in the region for many years. The Chinese government has criticized it as being caused by Islamic militant groups and independence supporters.
Is China Suppressing Islam?
The Chinese government is also trying to block activities related to the Islamic faith throughout Xinjiang, including trying to ban the use of halal products other than food.
One newspaper criticized the use of the word “halal” for products like toothpaste, saying it blurs the line between religious and non-religious life and makes people more susceptible to falling victim to extremist beliefs.
According to AFP, the Communist Party leadership in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, on August 8 made its cadres vow to fight the “pan-halal epidemic”.
The new law also explicitly forbids Muslim women from wearing the veil.
Communist Party members and officials were ordered to speak the official Chinese language instead of the local language.
Scenes from the camps
Former detainees told the BBC that they were subjected to psychological as well as physical torture in the concentration camps. Some of them said that their entire families had disappeared.
In July, a former teacher in the camps who has now fled to Kazakhstan testified in a Kazakhstan court that the camps are called political facilities in China, but in reality they are prisons in the mountains.
On September 8, the New York Times quoted a former detainee as saying that they were forced to sing songs such as “No New China Without the Communist Party,” and those who could not remember the lyrics were not given breakfast.
Abdus Salam Muhemet, a former detainee, told the paper, “In the end, all the staff members had one thing to say. The Chinese Communist Party is great, Uyghur culture is lagging behind, and Chinese culture is progressive, that’s all.
The World Uyghur Congress reported that the detainees were held indefinitely without prosecution and forced to shout communist slogans.
There are many reports that they were not given enough food and tortured.
However, China’s state-run English-language newspaper, the Global Times, claims that strict security measures in Xinjiang have prevented the region from turning into “China’s Syria” or “China’s Libya.
What are Uyghurs?
The Uyghurs are ethnically Turkic Muslims. They live mainly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and make up 45% of the population in the region.
They identify themselves as being culturally and ethnically closer to Central Asian countries, and linguistically closer to Turkic languages.
In recent decades, a large number of Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China, have migrated to Xinjiang, and Uyghurs feel that their culture and life are facing a threat.
Xinjiang is officially designated as an autonomous region within China, like Tibet to the south.
＜Commentary: Banning the promotion of religion — Michael Bristow, BBC News
By giving legal status to the concentration camps, the Chinese government seems to have admitted that what many have been saying for months is correct. That is, that it is running a series of re-education facilities for Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang in the name of countering extremism.
The new law promulgated describes the facilities in detail, but the name given by the Chinese government is vague. China refers to the camps as “vocational skills and education training centers.
In reality, however, it is clear that their sole purpose is to provide skills training to improve employment opportunities for residents.
The new law states that the facilities are for people who are “affected by extremism. It says that the aim is to correct wrong behavior and ensure that those detained receive psychological counseling and ideological education.
The detention facilities are part of a broader attack on Islamic extremists in Xinjiang.
The new law says it is illegal to spread fanatical beliefs by, for example, having an “abnormal beard or unusual name”.
The definition of extremism is so broad that it could apply, for example, to parents who are unhappy that their children are about to marry someone of a different religion or ethnicity.