UN Human rights officials are saying that there is evidence that China is holding one million Muslim Uighurs in “re-education” camps in the western part of the country.
Bloomberg reports that Gay McDougall, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, “cited ‘credible reports’ that China had turned the western region into ‘something resembling a massive internment camp, shrouded in secrecy.'”
Xinjiang, a Chinese region the size of Alaska, has become one of the world’s most heavily policed places. Bloomberg reported in January on government experiments with facial recognition systems that alert authorities when targeted people venture more than 300 meters (1,000 feet) beyond designated “safe areas.”
Local governments have also ordered residents to install satellite-tracking systems in their cars, while people must submit to facial scans to enter markets, buy fuel or visit places such as the capital Urumqi’s main bus terminal.
China’s President Xi Jinping said the country should “strike first” against Islamist extremism after deadly attacks involving Uighurs in 2013 and 2014, as well as reports of some fighting in Syria.
Asked about the re-education camps in a regular briefing on July 27, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: “The Chinese government fully respects people’s religious freedom, and we guarantee that in accordance with law. All ethnic groups and the people in all regions in China enjoy full freedom of religious belief.”
Oh, really? I guess there’s “freedom of religion” and then there’s the Chinese version of it.
Thousands of Hui people gathered at the towering Grand Mosque on Thursday and Friday to prevent authorities from demolishing the structure, residents contacted by The Associated Press said. It was a rare, public pushback to the party’s efforts to rewrite how religions are practiced in the country.
“People are in a lot of pain,” said Ma Sengming, a 72-year-old man who was at the protest from Thursday morning until Friday afternoon. “Many people were crying. We can’t understand why this is happening.”
Ma said the group shouted “Protect faith in China!” and “Love the country, love the faith!”
The protest comes as faith groups that were largely tolerated in the past have seen their freedoms shrink as the government seeks to “Sinicize” religions by making the faithful prioritize allegiance to the officially atheist Communist Party. Islamic crescents and domes have been stripped from mosques, Christian churches have been shut down and Bibles seized, and Tibetan children have been moved from Buddhist temples to schools.
An official Communist Party newspaper was quoted as saying that no religion is above the law in China, which fits nicely with government policy that basically says the “law” is whatever the hell we say it is. Certainly some additional security in the region is necessary given past attacks by Uighurs. But “re-education”? Those camps are as Stalinistic as the gulags were. Inmates “are forced to denounce Islam and profess loyalty to the party.” Not “God is Great,” but rather “The State is Great” — or else.
Muslims are not alone in being oppressed in China, but the idea you can force someone to give up their belief system to accommodate the wishes of the state is the antithesis of liberty and should be condemned by the civilized world.