Hong Kong: There has been a sharp uptick in government-backed persecution of Christianity and other religions in China, but none are currently suffering as much as the Muslim population in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Some 11 million Uighurs reside in this northwest Chinese province.
Of course, using the word “autonomous” to describe Xinjiang is a complete misnomer, because it has no autonomy whatsoever. Instead, thousands of Muslims are currently incarcerated in extrajudicial detention centers and reeducation camps.
The exact number of victims is impossible to verify, but estimates range from several hundred thousand upwards. Human Rights Watch, for example, claims 800,000 Muslims are detained, while Uighur exile groups estimate about 1 million Uighurs. They allege that nearly every Muslim household has been affected by these arbitrary arrests. For example, in Moyu county alone, 40% of adults have disappeared, with family members often having no idea where their loved one is.
Indeed, the number surely exceeds those imprisoned under the former “education through labor” program that China canceled in 2013. To put this in proper and stunning proportion, possibly up to one in ten Uighurs in Xinjiang are thus detained. In cases where both parents have been imprisoned, their children are sent to overflowing orphanages, often far from home.
China has sought to envelop Xinjiang and its nefarious government-sanctioned goings-on under a veil of secrecy. Chinese officials either remain silent or claim that no such re-education camps exist. The Chinese Foreign Ministry, for instance, has “not heard” of such camps.
Yet Radio Free Asia quoted one official saying in January: “.you can’t uproot all the weeds hidden among the crops in the field one by one – you need to spray chemicals to kill them all.Reeducating these people is like spraying chemicals on the crops. That is why it is a general reeducation, not limited to a few people.”
Describing China’s philosophical approach, Adrian Zenz of the European School of Culture and Theology wrote, “.Muslim populations are to be systematically subject to reeducation ‘treatment’ in order to expel poisonous ideologies that have ‘intoxicated’ them through their ‘addictive’ effects. Since it is a cure, reeducation cannot have harmful effects. In contrast to criminal punishment, detainees are therefore not subjected to legal procedures that evaluate legal trespasses. Rather, this ‘antidote’ is applied indiscriminately and at the slightest hint of suspicion.”
What happens in these camps? Zenz has identified three official types of facility: centralized transformation through education training centers, legal system schools and rehabilitation correction centers. These correspond with three levels of security. The first may be illiterate farmers who have done nothing overtly wrong other than being unable to speak Mandarin. The middle group may have had religious or “separatist” content found at home or on their phones. The worst group was those who had studied religion abroad or were somehow linked to foreigners.
Detention timeframes are supposed to be 15 days, two months or three months, though most internments actually end up being much longer – from several months to more than a year in some cases.
Some in the first category are in open camps, in that people attend compulsory study sessions in the daytime/evening and return home at night. Radio Free Asia reported on students who are unable to recall all the national anthem lyrics being berated for their stupidity, and being threatened with detention in a reeducation camp for between six months and five years if they did not learn the words within four days.
For more “serious” cases, full detention in overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation – all without legal redress – is required. Prisoners learn Mandarin and the lyrics to the national anthem as they follow a syllabus extolling the virtues of Chinese socialism. They are forced to disavow Islamic beliefs, to endlessly criticize themselves and loved ones, and to loudly praise the party. Prisoners chant for hours repetitive slogans such as, “We will oppose extremism, we will oppose separatism, we will oppose terrorism.”
The pre-meal “prayer” involves chanting “Thank the party! Thank the motherland! Thank President Xi!” Surveillance cameras are designed to prevent dead spaces so that inmates are continuously monitored, even in bathrooms.
Disobedience can result in standing for hours at a time, solitary confinement and the withdrawal of food. While violence is not regular, beatings and rough treatment definitely occur. Torture devices include tiger chairs (to which prisoners are restrained) and bodysuits made of iron to restrict movement, whilst having their heads thrust into icy water is a commonly used technique.
Mental breakdowns and suicide attempts occur, while those who play along with their indoctrination program can be released when they are deemed “safe”. There is also huge potential for a future religious backlash among the Uighur population as it endures overly harsh punishments. Or does Beijing intend to stamp out Islam in the XUAR? As well as the adverse psychological effects for those interred, social and economic impacts abound with so many people detained simultaneously.
This campaign being implemented by Xi and his party colleagues amounts to a horrific return to the chaotic mayhem of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution from 1966-76.
In fact, this is Beijing’s “final solution” to the Muslim problem of Islamic extremism. Ironically, its solution is a blatant example of socialist extremism in a different direction, one that tramples human rights, forcibly changes people’s religious and political beliefs, and encourages torture.
Who is the architect of this cruel campaign being waged in Xinjiang, a cultural and religious cleansing program that is attempting to rewire religious and political thought?
Chen Quanguo was appointed party secretary of the XUAR in August 2016 after replacing Zhang Chunxian, who was considered too soft amidst a series of violent incidents. Chen has not made the same mistake in Beijing’s eyes, for he has been particularly harsh in his treatment of Muslims. Chen arrived from Tibet, where he had prosecuted a stiff campaign against “unrest” as party secretary there since 2011.
However, Chen’s campaign has the full blessing of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and President Xi Jinping. Indeed, Xi introduced a Sinicization policy in 2015, where religions should be subjugated to socialist ideology. The CPC fears the three evils of “separatism, terrorism and extremism”.
Chen is utilizing the latest technologies such as surveillance cameras, facial recognition, DNA databases and biometrics in Xinjiang. He has turned the province into perhaps the most Orwellian place on earth, where fear is ever present.
The government launched its “Strike Hard” campaign in May 2014, but it is Chen who intensified it. On 1 April 2017, a comprehensive “de-extremification” ordinance was enacted in the XUAR, around the same time that news of these re-education camps began appearing.
Zenz’s research revealed that government procurement bids for constructing or enhancing these detention facilities spiked in June 2017, and remained high through till September. Zenz uncovered 73 separate bid documents totaling RMB682 million for facility construction, some of which are disguised as vocational training centers.
With overcrowding and mass detentions, even schools designed for ethnic minorities are now being turned into “de-radicalization and reeducation centers”. In an echo of the Nazi practice of naming its concentration camps, one center is known to be euphemistically called “Lovingkindness School”.
ChinaAid, a Texas-based non-profit organization that advocates for persecuted Christians and other religious groups in China, told ANI, “The Chinese government currently racially profiles these people, accuses peaceful citizens of having terrorist connections or spreading terrorist ideology for very simple actions such as sending benign messages to friends over social media. They are currently restricted from going abroad, and many suffer torture in a rapidly expanding network of ‘political training’ and ‘anti-extremist’ detention centers.”
Indeed, the authorities are deliberately trying to stifle Islamic practices. For example, ChinaAid reported that Muslims are forced to violate their halal diet. The government orders store owners to mix halal foods with non-halal foods, and anyone who inquires about the content of the food is subject to arrest.
Religious observers are most in danger, with the wrong choice of clothes or the growing of a beard seen as subversive. China is doing all it can to cause affront – such as closing mosques, making it illegal to fast during Ramadan or forcing Uighur stores to sell alcohol. Other restrictions include recalling passports, heightened surveillance, mass collection of DNA and voice biometrics for people aged 12-65.
Even in peaceful Hui Muslim areas, China has been clamping down since late 2017. A decade ago it encouraged Islamic decor and signs in an effort to promote tourism in such places as Ningxia. Now these are all being removed and calls to prayer are being increasingly banned, Islamic books and the Quran no longer appear on bookshelves, domes are being removed from mosques, private Arabic schools have closed and some public classes in mosques ended. Some ten million Hui in China have generally coexisted peacefully with the Han Chinese.
Such measures are destroying trust in the Chinese government and causing widespread panic in religious minorities. There is also genuine fear that the Xinjiang model will be rolled out in other parts of China. Groups like the Falun Gong have long been hunted and harshly treated – for example, Falun Gong practitioners may have their organs harvested – but in its paranoia China is viewing any competing worldview with severe strictures.
Another practice that commenced last December is for Chinese officials to impose five-day-long “home stays” on Muslim – and sometimes Han – households every two months. This entails party members staying with families to ask about their daily lives, religious practices and political views, and to spread party ideology such as “Xi Jinping Thought”. The uninvited officials teach Mandarin, make the hosts sing the national anthem and songs praising communism. They then report back on any problems or the need for remedial action.
Maya Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, commented, “Muslim families across Xinjiang are now literally eating and sleeping under the watchful eye of the state in their own homes. The latest drive adds to a whole host of pervasive – and perverse – controls on everyday life in Xinjiang.” She added, “China’s deeply invasive forced assimilation practices against Muslims not only violate basic rights, but are also likely to foster and deepen resentment in the region. Xinjiang authorities should immediately end the ‘Strike Hard’ campaign and all the related abuses.”
His latest homestay practice is an extension of the “Visit the People, Benefit the People and Get Together the Hearts of the People” measure, where the Xinjiang government sent 200,000 cadres out to visit and observe Muslims to “safeguard social stability”.
There is no let-up in sight either. Just this month, Zhang Jun, the Procurator-General of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, urged the Xinjiang government to expand its program in an “all-out effort” to fight extremism.
What is most remarkable is the near silence from Islamic nations about the abuses being perpetrated against Uighurs, their fellow Muslims. Pakistan claims to be China’s friend, but it is also a Muslim-majority nation.
Islamabad has emitted deafening silence so far. What about Indonesia, Turkey or Middle East states? There has been no concerted criticism of China from any of these countries.
As in Nazi Germany, the lie is so great, the abuses so gross, that the rest of the world is having trouble imagining it, and so it sits idly by and says nothing. US Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Chris Smith termed the Xinjiang campaign as “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today”. Yet more than words are needed at this juncture.
Given the abuses that Beijing is perpetrating against its own people, what right does China have to be currently represented on the United Nations Human Rights Council? Or why are sanctions and travel bans not being imposed against Chen, other Xinjiang party officials and even Xi himself?
Xi is a hardliner. He has become emboldened to do whatever he wants in his own country. Not only that, he is trying to export Chinese socialism overseas too as he desperately craves legitimacy on the global stage.
Zenz said that Beijing was “hell-bent to pursue a definitive solution to the Uighur question”. Is it working? Certainly, the number of reported terrorist attacks has reduced to zero since 2017. But this is a far wider issue than terrorism. China is doing all this in the name of fighting terrorism, but in reality this is an ideological battle where Xi wants the party and his brand of socialism to reign supreme.
Beijing has instituted a war against Islam and religion in general, anything that competes for the loyalty of the hearts of Chinese people. Xi wants socialism, the party and his own thought to enlighten China.
The danger of such a massive campaign eschewing human rights is great. Already people are abusively using the threat of being sent to a re-education camp as a way of controlling other people’s behavior.
This is a blatant example of modern-day social reengineering and brainwashing. Already some are speculating that the type of reeducation camps in Xinjiang could be rolled out more widely around China. Could Beijing institute the same measures for those with low social credit scores under its new surveillance program, for example? (ANI)