The re­al­ity of China’s de­ten­tion camps has been re­vealed for all to see

The Guardian Weekly - - Opinion -

The courage of former in­mates and rel­a­tives, and the dili­gence of aca­demics, jour­nal­ists and other re­searchers, has brought a ter­ri­ble se­cret into plain view. As the ev­i­dence piled up of the mass ex­tra­ju­di­cial de­ten­tion of Mus­lim Uighurs, Kaza­khs and oth­ers in China’s north-western re­gion of Xin­jiang, it was met with si­lence or de­nial from Bei­jing. When ex­perts told a UN panel this Au­gust that as many as a mil­lion could be held, a Chi­nese of­fi­cial in­sisted that: “There is no such thing as re-ed­u­ca­tion cen­tres.”

Still the satel­lite im­agery, pub­lic doc­u­ments and fright­en­ing per­sonal tes­ti­monies amassed. With a UN hu­man rights coun­cil meet­ing ap­proach­ing this month, China an­nounced that un­der re­vised leg­is­la­tion, lo­cal gov­ern­ments in Xin­jiang could “ed­u­cate and trans­form” peo­ple in­flu­enced by ex­trem­ism at “vo­ca­tional train­ing cen­tres”. Bei­jing is now pro­mot­ing the pro­gramme as an al­tru­is­tic at­tempt to im­prove lives as well as sta­bil­is­ing the re­gion, pre­vent­ing fur­ther vi­o­lent at­tacks. State me­dia has shown “stu­dents” in uni­forms playing ping pong and folk danc­ing, and learn­ing skills such as hair­dress­ing.

This hu­mane idyll – a free sum­mer camp with ca­reers as­sis­tance – is in stark con­trast to the harsh regime recorded by oth­ers. Last week, a re­port by AFP based on ten­der­ing and other of­fi­cial doc­u­ments found such fa­cil­i­ties or­der­ing ra­zor wire, spiked clubs and re­straint de­vices known as “tiger chairs”. Former de­tainees have de­scribed po­lit­i­cal in­doc­tri­na­tion and abuse. While the gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial sug­gested that in­mates are “sus­pected of mi­nor crim­i­nal of­fences”, re­leased pris­on­ers de­scribe peo­ple be­ing held for hav­ing rel­a­tives abroad, recit­ing a re­li­gious verse at a fu­neral or fail­ing to pay a bill. And as par­ents dis­ap­pear into camps, chil­dren are be­ing taken from fam­i­lies and placed in de facto or­phan­ages.

The pro­gramme ap­pears to be ac­cel­er­at­ing: the BBC sug­gests that the largest known camp now has room for up to 130,000 in­mates and would be one of the world’s largest pris­ons even on a very con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate.

A dis­turb­ing ac­count by an ethno­g­ra­pher last week de­tailed how more than a mil­lion Chi­nese of­fi­cials have been sent out to stay with house­holds in a “Be­com­ing Fam­ily” cam­paign. Of­fi­cials por­tray it as an at­tempt to win hearts, in­clud­ing through help with poverty al­le­vi­a­tion. But they are also told to gather in­for­ma­tion on their hosts, re­port on “un­usual sit­u­a­tions” and carry out po­lit­i­cal pro­pa­ganda work. One re­gional man­ual tells work­ers to in­form their “lit­tle broth­ers and sis­ters” that they have been mon­i­tor­ing all in­ter­net and phone com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

These in­con­ve­nient facts have un­til re­cently been met largely with si­lence, in­clud­ing from Mus­lim coun­tries. That is be­gin­ning to change. The US has raised the prospect of sanc­tions; the new UN rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, has pressed the is­sues; oth­ers are voic­ing con­cerns. We now know what is hap­pen­ing. Who will act? •

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.