Chinese government faces scrutiny over “re-education” camps

The Chinese government continue to deny mistreatment at their “re-education camps” as more Uyghur Muslims claim that millions are being held in inhumane internment camps due to their religion and ethnicity. The government claim that the re-education programmes are being carried out in order to stop terrorism attacks and instill a respect for the Chinese state in the group that they say have a tendency to incite violence against the government, despite failing to provide any examples of this having occurred previously.

The government has invited international media into these camps in an attempt to prove that they not internment facilities, but that the majority of those attending the centres are there of their own choice. This, many Uighirs claim, is untrue. It is estimated that up to two million people are currently being detained, with varying reports being released on what is occurring in the facilities. The government claims that there is an assortment of classes on the greatness of the Chinese state, traditional Chinese music and dance lessons and workshops on reducing the chances of radicalisation to ensure they are on a path to reformation, being “reborn” as good, Chinese citizens. Those who have family members in the camps, or have been there themselves, say that what is occurring is less educational and more akin torture. Waterboarding, handcuffing and long spells of imprisonment are common, with tools such a brainwashing and humiliation also being used.

Mihrigul Turson, a mother of triplets, claims that she was tortured on multiple occasions after being detained a number of times. On the first occasion, one of her three children died in custody and the other two had developed serious health problems and had been operated on. On the third occasion, she claims to have been drugged, electrocuted and subjected to intrusive medical examinations. She was kept in a cell with 60 other women, and security cameras were installed in the bathroom facilities. “I thought I would rather die than go through this torture,” she told journalists after her testimony. “I begged them to kill me.” Upon her release she fled to Egypt with her children, before settling in Virginia, U.S.A.

Uighur writer Nurmuhammad Tohti was reported to have died in March 2019 at the age of 70. His family claim he was incarcerated for several months without medical treatment for his diabetes and heart disease. They also claim that they were initially afraid to inform the rest of the family of his passing as they feared their phones were being tapped by the government. One of the reasons cited by the government for internment is contact with relatives outside of China. “Shortly after the call, my grandma received a message from the Chinese government saying she had answered a foreign call and that that was a dangerous decision,” Tohiti’s grandson, Balbur Ilchi, wrote on a since deleted Instagram post. “What did she do other than tell us he had passed away? Why should that be met with consequences?” This fear lead to many family members not being informed of Tohti’s passing for up to 11 days after his death. His granddaughter, Berna Ilchi, stated that they do not know if he passed away in the internment camp or at his home, as they were too afraid to ask due to fears of phone-tapping.

International reaction to the reports has been mixed. In July 2019, 22 countries including U.K. and Germany signed a joint letter to the UN Human Rights Council urging China to close the camps in Xinjiang. In response, 50 other countries, including North Korea and Syria signed a joint letter to the same body praising the “remarkable achievements” the camps have made. The Chinese government only admitted to the existence of the camps in October 2018 following their legalisation, however satellite images trace them back to 2014.

The Chinese government invited international press into one of the facilities in Xinjiang in June of this year, in an attempt to deter rumours of mistreatment by showing journalists brightly lit classrooms and happy, dancing students. The BBC reported that the Chinese government officials that were accompanying them as they toured the facility and spoke to those inside “believed wholeheartedly in the narrative on display,” adding that while watching the classes and workshops that were being performed, “some [were] almost moved to tears as they looked on.” A BBC reporter surmised that the primary reason behind the invitation was to show that “the West could learn a lot from this was the message.”