Minorities in china: arbitrariness against uyghurs

"China Cables": Leaked government lists show the absurd justifications used to keep people in camp detention in Xinjiang province.

Uyghurs at protests in the Xinjiang region in 2009 Photo: Oliver Weiken/dpa

After months of denial, the Chinese government was forced to admit in the spring that hundreds of thousands of members of the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province are being held in camp-like prisons, according to reports by various human rights organizations. The Chinese state media then launched a propaganda campaign.

In a video report of the "China News Service" from last March, one can see the then 22-year-old Arapat Yusup. "I was in contact with people I didn’t know whether they were good or bad for me," confesses the apparently remorseful man: "Without realizing it, I was infected by extreme ideas." Beijing’s core message is that these are not prisoners, but rather that the Uyghur Muslim minority is being prepared for the job market in training centers and discouraged from religious extremism.

Less than a year later, Arapat Yusup reappeared in a 137-page government document leaked to journalists, detailing the cases of 311 Muslims in Karakax County. They provide insight into the arbitrariness with which Beijing is acting against the Uyghurs. Arapat Yusup, for example, is accused of being an "untrustworthy" person.

Already a few months ago, the so-called "China Cables" revealed gruesome details about the internment camps. The new documents come from the same source, a Uyghur activist in the Netherlands. They make clear for the first time the criteria used to arrest the people concerned. Previously completely surprising: the main offense for just under a third of all internees is having more than the permitted number of children as parents. The second most common reason given by the authorities for detention was that people were "not trustworthy."

Beijing Breaks Its Own Constitution

Outward signs of religiosity are enough to land one in the camps: One man was accused of wearing a beard "from March 2011 to 2014." In another case, a Muslim whose two children were interned was deemed "trustworthy" when he began drinking alcohol again after a year of abstinence. And in entry 114, it is written about a 37-year-old Uyghur: "Five family members applied for passports; prepared to travel." There was also a "strict religious atmosphere" in the family. Finally, the entry ends with the conclusion, "Further training recommended."

Researcher Adrian Zenz calls the document "the strongest evidence to date that Beijing is actively prosecuting quite normal religious practices, in direct violation of the country’s constitution." Zenz is considered a leading scholar in the field; for years, he has been institutionally independent and funded out of his own pocket his studies of the repression of the Muslim minority in Xinjiang.

Zenz now works in Washington at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation think tank. He sees it as proven that the Chinese government has undermined the principle of innocence and does not shy away from clan detention. Zenz compares the mass internment with a "medieval witch hunt, albeit carried out with official perfection and iron discipline.

Meanwhile, Beijing claims to have closed the "training camps." In fact, independent experts also believe that some of the detainees have been released from the camps. However, they are not free because of this, as the now leaked documents prove: According to them, constant evaluation and monitoring of the former detainees is planned to keep them in line.

"Beijing is doing the only thing it knows how to do: sending a message of repression," says Wuer Kaixi, one of the leaders of the 1989 Beijing Tienanmen Square student movement. In the meantime, the Uigure lives in exile in Taiwan, from where the activist appears as a critic against Beijing. He explains the brutal suppression of Muslims in Xinjiang with anticipatory obedience of the local government, which wants to secure the loyalty of the central government in Beijing with overzealous measures.

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