12 Sep 2017/Tuesday
Human Rights Watch a New York based organization has asked the Chinese government to immediately free people held in unlawful “political education” centers in Xinjiang and shut them down. Since about April 2017, the authorities have forcibly detained thousands of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities at these centers, where they are subjected to propaganda promoting Chinese identity.
“The Chinese authorities are holding people at these ‘political education’ centers not because they have committed any crimes, but because they deem them politically unreliable,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The government has provided no credible reasons for holding these people and should free them immediately.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed three relatives of detainees held in political education facilities around Kashgar City and Bortala Prefecture in 2017. They said the detentions began in the spring and lasted for several months. They said that people sent to the centers were not presented with a warrant, evidence of a crime, or any other documentation. They did not know which local authorities were responsible for detaining their family members or in some cases, even where they were held.
The family members said that men, women, and children were all being held. In one case, a family of four, including two children, were taken to a political education facility in western Xinjiang in April for traveling abroad for business and for the Hajj, an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. While one parent and one child were released after three months, the other two are believed to be still in custody.
State media in Xinjiang, including the Xinjiang Daily, have reported on these facilities. People interviewed and state media generally refer them as “counter extremism training centers” and “education and transformation training centers”. The facilities are converted from schools or other official buildings, though some are specifically built for the purpose. Media reports have noted that party cadres “eat, live and labor” alongside those “who need to be transformed,” and that life and hours there are “just like a boarding high school… except the content of learning is different.”
The family members interviewed said they believed their relatives were being detained for a number of reasons, including traveling abroad or having families who live abroad. Others may have been targeted for participating in unauthorized religious activities, such as wearing headscarves or other Muslim attire, or merely for having relatives who had been previously arrested by the government. State media reports also said that people who “are easily influenced by religious extremism” as well as “key personnel” – a term that refers to people perceived as threats by authorities – have also been detained in these facilities.
The family members also said that detainees are required to learn the Chinese language, and recite Chinese and Xinjiang laws and policies. They are compelled to watch pro-government propaganda videos, and to renounce their ethnic and religious identities, reciting slogans such as “religion is harmful,” and “learning Chinese is part of patriotism.”
It is not clear how many people are held in these facilities at any one time. An April 5 Xinjiang Daily article reported that over 2,000 people had been “trained” in a Hotan facility, though it does not give a time frame. This report features a Uyghur traditional medicine seller named Ali Husen, who was “sent” to this center by the township authorities. Though Husen was “initially very reluctant” to learn, he increasingly became “shocked by his ignorance.” After two months of education, Husen was asked to “clearly articulate his stance to a crowd of 5,000 and told them “how extremism had harmed him.”
The Xinjiang political education detention centers are contrary to China’s constitution and violate international human rights law, Human Rights Watch said. Article 37 of China’s Constitution states that all arrests must be approved by either the state prosecution, or the courts, yet neither agency appears to be involved with these detentions.
“Unjustly detaining and forcibly indoctrinating people will only increase resentment toward the government, not engender loyalty,” Richardson said. “China should instead allow greater freedoms so people in Xinjiang can express their criticisms and ethnic and religious identities peacefully and without fear.”