muslim internment camps, chinese camps

Mass re-education camps used to hold Uighur and other Muslim minorities in China are being run like “wartime concentration camps”, according to Amnesty International.

The human rights group said that up to one million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities have been arbitrarily detained in internment camps in the far-west Xinjiang region.

Inmates at these camps have been forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, acts forbidden by their religion. The report claims that they have also been forced to denounce Islam, sing political, patriotic songs and attend re-education lessons.

In response, China claimed that it is detaining people guilty of minor crimes, and has sent them to “vocational centres” and that inmates are “grateful” to be there.

However, Uighur activists have estimated up to 3 million people have been detained in the camps, according to Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International.

He said: “The scale is scary. We haven’t seen in recent Chinese history that there would be such a scale of detaining people in camps in such huge numbers. So I think it’s legitimate for people to raise concern about how the camps are being run similar to wartime concentration camps. It’s comparable in scale.”

However, new reports of life in the camps or the wider region are rare, mostly because former detainees are too afraid to talk about their cases and because the Chinese state controls what journalists in the region can do, according to Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said: “One of the big challenges is that the diaspora community is rightly very concerned about surveillance. So while you do see a few more people speaking out, there is a lot of logic in the minds of people who are concerned about speaking out, because they’re concerned about their family members inside China.”

However, these Muslim minorities have even been forbidden to leave China.
Sophie added: “When you see a government denying people the right to leave, it generally means they’ve got something to hide.”

Another reason could be Uighurs’ unique status as both an ethnic and religious minority, Ms Richardson said. “Uighurs are not nearly as well known as an ethnic community worldwide as Tibetans are. And there’s the issue of Islamophobia, which the Chinese government has stoked at home. They say Xinjiang is awash with terrorists and it [China] is merely following a counter-terror and counter-extremism strategy like everyone else is.”

While Chinese officials initially issued blanket denials about the mass internment camps, they later defended them by saying they were used for citizens who were guilty of minor offences and that the camps were being used as vocational centres to provide employment opportunities.

It has also been reported that more than one million Han Chinese people have moved into the homes of Uighur Muslim families to report on whether they display Islamic or unpatriotic beliefs.

American anthropologist Darren Byler said the Han spies were tasked with looking for signs their hosts’ attachment to Islam might be “extreme”, such as by looking to see if they had a Quran in the house or fasted at Ramadan.

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