Chinese government officials and state-run media outlets are denying reports that over a million Uighur Muslims from the province of Xinjiang have been herded into “re-education camps” where they are held without due process and, according to some reports, physically tortured.
CNN reported Monday on the allegations made to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by a Uighur group based in Germany, and the response from the Chinese government:
In their submission to the committee, the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said they estimated at least one million Uyghurs were being held in political indoctrination camps as of July 2018.
“Detentions are extra-legal, with no legal representation allowed throughout the process of arrest and incarceration,” the submission said, adding there were “widespread” reports of torture.
Responding to questions Monday, a representative of the Chinese government called the accusations of mass imprisonment “completely untrue.”
“Xinjiang citizens including the Uyghurs enjoy equal freedoms and rights,” Hu Lianhe, a spokesman for China’s United Front Work Department, told the UN panel. “There is no arbitrary detention or lack of freedom of religion and belief.”
He said there is “no such thing as re-education centers,” but added criminals convicted of “minor offenses” have been assigned to “vocational educational and employment training centers with a view to assisting in their rehabilitation.”
“They are not subject to any arbitrary detention or ill-treatment there,” Hu said.
Human-rights groups accuse China of trying to cover up a crime against humanity. The U.N. committee said Beijing needs to do more than simply deny the allegations, which have been backed up by photos smuggled out of Xinjiang and posted on social media.
The Chinese government has maintained heavy censorship on Xinjiang for the past decade, escalating to a near-total information blackout when a crackdown on purported Uighur separatists began several months ago.
The UK Guardian caught one Chinese official claiming those huge camps are actually massive vocational training schools thoughtfully provided by the Chinese government to teach the Uighurs useful skills:
Hu Lianhe from China’s united front work department – an agency under the Communist party that focuses on China’s influence abroad – told the panel: “There is no such thing as re-education centers in Xinjiang.
“For those who are convicted of minor offenses, we help and teach them in vocational skills in education and training centers, according to relevant laws. There is no arbitrary detention and torture.”
Another defensive strategy employed by China involves comparing the Xinjiang crackdown to measures taken by other governments to combat Islamic extremism, which China’s apologists keep bringing up as the major issue in Xinjiang, even though they also insist their government is committed to religious freedom. For instance, the Chinese delegation to the U.N. religious freedom committee pointed out that “wearing masked robes is also prohibited in many other countries in the world.”
China’s state-run Global Times on Monday credited the crackdown with preventing Xinjiang from “becoming China’s Syria or China’s Libya,” applauding the “strong leadership” of the Communist Party for imposing “the rule of law and ethnic unity” upon the restless province.
The Global Times dismissed human-rights investigations as an international plot to undermine the Communist Party’s authority, accusing the critics of attempting to “stir trouble for Xinjiang and destroy the hard-earned stability in the region.”
The bulk of the editorial was devoted to paranoid attacks on human-rights activists and blustery insistence that Xinjiang is Chinese territory, so Beijing will do as it pleases to the residents:
Some forces in the West are smearing Xinjiang governance. They either don’t understand the real situation or deliberately find fault in order to sabotage local governance by exerting external pressure.
It can be imagined that the West will keep piling more pressure on Xinjiang and radical Western forces may even come up with new tricks to do so. External public opinion about China’s governance in Xinjiang might further deteriorate and China should be prepared.
Officials, the ordinary people of all of Xinjiang’s ethnic groups and Chinese society must not be affected by the influence and pressure put on us by Western forces. Maintaining peace and stability in the region is the core interest of people both in Xinjiang and all of China.
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. What the West has been hyping has destroyed numerous countries and regions. When the same evil influence was spreading in Xinjiang, it was decisively curbed.
The Associated Press noticed that the Global Times editors did not mention the re-education camps or directly address the other allegations presented to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
In fact, committee vice-chairwoman Gay McDougall cited “numerous and credible reports” that the entire province is becoming a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”
The worst-case estimates say over three million Xinjiang residents are now confined to some sort of prison or re-education camp, mostly without the benefit of anything the Western world would recognize as due process. Even the low-end estimates of half a million detainees would make China’s Uighur crackdown one of the largest mass incarcerations in the world. Some Xinjiang officials have reported nearly half the population of their villages marching off to re-education camps.