An internment program that targets ethnic Uighur extremists in Xinjiang region of China has incarcerated one million in camps across the country’s northwest. The so called “political re-education" camps are growing up to 1,300, although China denies detention of vast numbers of Uighur separatists.
Unrest in the area has a long history and is driven more by China’s oppression of religious activity and preferential policies for non-Uighur migrants to the region. China has banned men from growing beards and women from wearing veils, and launched an extensive electronic surveillance program to erase a sense of Islamic or Turkish identity among Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic groups. The re-education programs, much akin to Communist China’s pervasive cultural and political propaganda, prohibit the detainees to pray, keep a copy of the Quran or fast during Ramadan.
According to former inmates and detainees’ relatives, reasons for detention include traveling abroad, contacting or visiting relatives outside China, and having WhatsApp on their phones. Detainees have been reported disappearing after entering the camps, or died soon after they were released. Strict limits and surveillances are epitomized in slogans such as one sign at Turpan internment camp that reads: “Sense the party’s kindness, obey the party’s words, and follow the party’s lead.” Meanwhile, China declares that Uighurs enjoyed full rights but "those deceived by religious extremism... shall be assisted by resettlement and re-education."
Xinjiang is designated as an autonomous region in China, like Tibet to its south. Once at the intersection of ancient Silk Road trade routes, Xinjiang now threatens to become a black hole in President Xi Jinping’s international “One Belt One Road” expansion effort. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch has submitted reports to the UN committee documenting claims of mass imprisonment. The international community is taking note, while U.S. lawmakers calling for sanctions. “[I]n the name of combating religious extremism and maintaining social stability,” China has turned the Xinjiang region “into something that resembles a massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy, a sort of ‘no rights zone’,” Gay McDougall, a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, observed.
Whether or how the pushback from international human rights organizations will alter China’s policies toward the Uighurs remains unclear. China continues to disguise the re-education regime as justifiable policy to centrally control Xinjiang. The system of repression has turned Xinjiang into a police state like no other. In Hotan, “convenience police stations” are part of a “grid-management system.” The authorities divide each city, village or town into squares, with about 500 people. Every square has a police station that keeps tabs on the inhabitants. At checkpoints, identity cards are scanned, photographs and fingerprints are taken, and newly installed iris-recognition technology is used to examine residents’ eyes. Phones are confiscated for later data analysis. China imposes a police state to limit separatism and reduce violence. But by oppressing the Uighurs, the result is that the minority group is drifting towards more violence.