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China locks up Muslims in 're-education camps'

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

Chinese authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang are detaining Muslim ethnic minorities en masse and subjecting them to torture and brainwashing to honor the ruling Chinese Communist Party and renounce the tenets of their faith, rights groups warned.

"The authorities force the detainees to accept this so-called education, which is political indoctrination," Human Rights Watch (HRW) China researcher Maya Wang told RFA on Wednesday. "Before they eat, they have to wish [President] Xi Jinping good health, or thank the government and thank the party, before they are allowed to eat anything."

"They are forced to study Chinese characters, and anyone who challenges this arbitrary detention is punished, some physically, some by being locked up in isolation with no food or water," she said..

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, which represents the ethnic minority Uyghur group overseas, said many detainees are closely monitored using the latest facial recognition technology, which is believed to predict a person's actions through the analysis of micro-expressions.

"They use surveillance video of micro-expressions to analyze what people are thinking or feeling," Raxit said. "By looking at changes in these expressions each day ... they can tell whether the person is likely to engage in acts of collective or individual protest."

He said the consequences for not engaging with this process can be dire.

"People have been tortured to death, while others have been beaten to death, or prevented from sleeping, or refused food or water," Raxit said. "Either that or they do whatever would be most humiliating to that person's psychological profile. Sometimes they humiliate them physically, and have been known to employ electric batons."

‘Secularize and modernize’

Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, says, "The state basically sees southern Xinjiang as a big problem area and a concentration of difficult-to-control populations."

"They want people in regular wage jobs and also in different places in Xinjiang where they are under much more control and in very nonreligious settings," he told the rights group RDSL Monitor in an interview.

"They want people to secularize and to modernize."

Murat, another Muslim from Xinjiang, told RFA that he was similarly incarcerated, beaten and tortured in a "re-education center."

“Political education centers are generally like prisons," Murat told RFA. "Electric shocks, beatings, and humiliation all take place in there. It's very cruel."

He said inmates are under constant video surveillance.

"Nobody talks; there is a camera on the ceiling and even in the toilet," he said.

Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” views have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.

Earlier this month, an official in Xinjiang's Qaraqash (in Chinese, Moyu) county, said that nearly half of the population of his village is currently detained in re-education camps.

China's central government authorities have not publicly acknowledged the existence of re-education camps in the XUAR, and the number of inmates kept in each facility remains a closely guarded secret, but local officials in many parts of the region have in RFA telephone interviews forthrightly described sending significant numbers of Uyghurs to the camps and even described overcrowding in some facilities.

Citing credible reports, lawmakers Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, who head the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said recently that as many as 500,000 to a million people are or have been detained in the re-education camps, calling it ”the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”

Zenz estimates that the number “could be closer to 1.1 million, which equates to 10-11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the region."

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