China suggests its camps for Uyghurs are just vocational schools

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OVER the past year, activists, scholars and journalists have shed light on the detention for “re-education” of large numbers of Uyghur Muslims in China’s far western Xinjiang province. On August 13, the subject was raised at the UN, when experts conducting an audit of China’s policies towards ethnic minorities said they had heard that up to 1 million Uyghurs were locked up. Hu Lianhe, a Communist Party official who flew in for the hearing, said allegations that the party was sending Uyghurs to indoctrination camps were “completely false”. He said some petty offenders in Xinjiang were assigned to “vocational education” institutions for “rehabilitation and reintegration”, but did not specify how many.

The party seems to think that compulsory periods of forced instruction, which sometimes last for weeks or months, are a good way to combat Islamic extremism and secessionist thinking, which it says threatens Xinjiang’s stability. People who worked or were detained in the centers say the detainees had to sing Communist Party songs. According to Washington Post, some were brought to consume pork and alcohol. In some cases, they suffered physical violence. But Mr. Hu’s rebuttal nonetheless provided slightly more detail than previously offered by officials. In May, China’s Foreign Ministry told reporters who had traveled to Xinjiang that it “just hadn’t heard of” the situation they were describing.

As it becomes increasingly difficult to keep the mass detentions secret, Chinese officials are likely to become both more outspoken and more prickly about their behavior. In an editorial published on August 13, world times, a tabloid closely linked to the party, accused the West of stirring up trouble. He insisted that the party’s strategies had succeeded in preventing Xinjiang from becoming the “Syria of China”. He said “all measures” were acceptable in the name of securing peace and stability, which he called “the greatest human right”. This month, Radio Free Asia, a US-backed broadcaster, released the transcript of an audio recording, which it says was produced by the Xinjiang branch of the Communist Youth League to help to explain the detentions to the people of the province. The recording claims that those selected for rehabilitation are “infected with an ideological disease” which can “manifest at any time”. He says hospital treatment in a “hospital” is needed to “restore their minds to normal”.

In addition to its indoctrination efforts, the party has deployed an extensive surveillance apparatus in Uighur areas of Xinjiang, complicating many aspects of daily life (Police are pictured outside a mosque in Kashgar, a city in southern Xinjiang ). In early August, police in Henan, a province more than 2,500 km from Xinjiang, said they had jailed and fined a man who rented rooms to three Uyghur bakers (his crime, it seems, n hadn’t asked permission from the police first). The Uyghurs themselves were transported to Xinjiang, according to the notice. A citizen who alerted the police to their presence reportedly received a reward of 2,000 yuan ($290).

Muslims elsewhere in China are also increasingly nervous. As part of a broader project to “sinicize” religions such as Christianity and Islam, authorities in Ningxia province, home to many Hui, a well-integrated Muslim minority, have dismantled the domes and minarets of mosques and muffled their calls to prayer. This month, Weizhou city officials scrapped plans to demolish a grand mosque they said was built illegally, after a large crowd of angry Huis held a vigil outside the city. outside. It is difficult to see how such deadlocks help promote the peace and stability that Chinese leaders claim to dream of.

This article appeared in the China section of the print edition under the headline “And hell is just a sauna”

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