By Paul Goble
The UN Commission for the Liquidation of Racial Discrimination says that the Chinese government has forcibly confined approximately one million Uyghurs in political re-education camps, something Beijing denies but that many visitors to the Xinjiang region confirm (kommersant.ru/doc/3712644).
Guy MacDougal, the vice chairman of the commission, says that “under the pretext of the struggle with religious extremism and the maintenance of social stability, China has transformed the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous District into something that recalls an enormous camp for military prisoners.”
The situation may be even more dire than the UN says, Mikhail Kostikov of Kommersant reports. According to the World Uyghur congress, there are not a million Uyghurs confined in such camps but “about three million, who are ‘being subjected to indoctrination’ and ‘do not have access to lawyers’ or ‘contact with relatives.’”
Following ethnic clashes in 2009 between the Muslim Uyghurs and the Chinese Beijing has moved into the region to swamp the former and ensure central control, the Chinese authorities imposed tighter controls. But now that period, Uyghurs say, was one of “relative liberalization” because things became much worse after the change in governors in 2016.
The new man viewed the Uyghurs as fertile ground for recruitment by ISIS – Beijing says as many as 5,000 members of that nationality have joined ISIS groups — and attacked Uyghurs and other Muslim nationalities there for wearing beards, reading the Koran, attending mosques, or eating according to Islamic strictures.
According to sources who have been in the region, the Chinese do not use physical violence against the Uyghurs confined in these camps except for violations of the rules. Instead, they rely on the uncertainty the detainees have about their prospects to instill fears about when they might be released and what will happen to them.
What the Chinese authorities are doing is clearly a crime against humanity; but the report about their actions is likely to instill fear among some non-Russian Muslims that Moscow may conclude that if Beijing can get away with this, then the Russian authorities may follow their course, especially at a time when the Kremlin is increasing repression of all non-Russian groups.