Guardian: China 'legalises' internment camps for million Uighurs

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Guardian
Lily Kuo in Beijing and agencies
Wed 10 Oct 2018 19.28 EDT
Last modified on Thu 11 Oct 2018 14.45 EDT

Laws revised in Xinjiang region to permit ‘education centres’ for ‘people influenced by extremism’

China’s far north-western region of Xinjiang has retroactively legitimised the use of internment camps where up to one million Muslims are being held.

Amid sustained international criticism, Chinese authorities have revised legislation to allow the regional government to officially permit the use of “education and training centres” to incarcerate “people influenced by extremism”.

A truck carrying paramilitary policemen passes
a Uighur man during an anti-terrorism oath-
taking rally in Urumqi, Xinjiang.
Photograph: China Stringer Network/Reuters
Chinese authorities deny that the internment camps exist but say petty criminals are sent to vocational “training centres”. Former detainees say they were forced to denounce Islam and profess loyalty to the Communist party in what they describe as political indoctrination camps.

“It’s a retrospective justification for the mass detainment of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang,” said James Leibold, a scholar of Chinese ethnic policies at Melbourne’s La Trobe University. “It’s a new form of re-education that’s unprecedented and doesn’t really have a legal basis, and I see them scrambling to try to create a legal basis for this policy.”

The revisions, published on Tuesday, say government agencies at the county level and above “may establish occupational skills education and training centres, education transformation organisations and management departments to transform people influenced by extremism through education”.

A new clause directs the centres to teach the Mandarin language and provide occupational and legal education, as well as “ideological education, psychological rehabilitation and behaviour correction”. Another new clause bars “refusing public goods like radio and television.” Chinese state media often feature programs hailing development in Xinjiang and promoting the government’s vision of stability in the territory.

The revised rules include a ban on behaviour “undermining the implementation” of China’s family planning policies which restrict family size. Last year, authorities ended an exception that had allowed Uighur and other ethnic minorities to have more children than their Han Chinese counterparts.

“Overall, this clearly strengthens the legal basis for the type of re-education that has essentially been admitted by the state … indicating that the state is determined to proceed with the current campaign,” said Adrian Zenz, a researcher who focuses on Xinjiang.

The original legislation announced in 2017 banned the wearing of veils, “extreme speech and behaviour” and the refusal to listen to public radio and television broadcasts.

Beijing has spent decades trying to suppress pro-independence sentiment in Xinjiang fuelled in part by frustration about an influx of migrants from China’s Han majority. Authorities say extremists there have ties to foreign terror groups but have given little evidence to support the claim.

Members of Uighur, Kazakh and other Muslim minorities who live abroad say they have not been able to contact relatives in China, while authorities are placing children separated from their detained or exiled parents into dozens of state-run orphanages across Xinjiang.

Leibold said the revisions were an attempt to deflect international criticism. China has come under increasing pressure from the US and the European Union after a United Nations panel confronted Chinese diplomats in August over reports of arbitrary mass detentions and harsh security measures aimed at Muslims. China is up for review by the UN’s human rights council in November.

“Regardless of these revisions I still believe the practice of coercively detaining Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang in ‘education through transformation centres’ not only violates Chinese law but also international legal norms against the extrajudicial deprivation of liberty,” Leibold said.

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