The Chinese government recently admitted that it’s forcing religious minorities into “reeducation camps” as part of its crackdown on extremism — but new details show that these centers have a lot more in common with concentration camps.
Thousands of guards carrying spiked clubs, tear gas, and stun guns surveil the government’s “students,” who are held in buildings ringed with razor wire and infrared cameras, according to a report published Wednesday by the French news service Agence France-Presse.
AFP journalists who reviewed more than 1,500 publicly available government documents also describe disturbing purchases made by government agencies that oversee the so-called education centers: 2,768 police batons, 550 electric cattle prods, 1,367 pairs of handcuffs, and 2,792 cans of pepper spray.
These descriptions are a far cry from Chinese government propaganda that claims these centers in Xinjiang, the autonomous region in northwestern China where most Uighur Muslims live, provide “free” education and job training to counter the spread of terrorism and religious extremism.
In one of the government documents, officials argued that to build new, better Chinese citizens, the reeducation centers must first “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins.”
The new report supports what human rights groups and journalists have been saying for a while now: China’s authoritarian government has grown increasingly brutal, and its detention and torture of Uighur Muslims amounts to crimes against humanity under international law.
China recently legalized the “reeducation centers”
Earlier this month, the BBC reported that Chinese authorities in Xinjiang had revised a law designed to promote the use of detention centers “to carry out the educational transformation of those affected by extremism.”
As Vox’s Jen Kirby notes, China has previously tried to deny or downplay the existence of these centers. But human rights groups, witness testimony, and media reports have shown Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the region being detained and tortured in mass numbers, and forced to undergo psychological indoctrination — like studying communist propaganda and giving thanks to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
A United Nations human rights panel estimates that Chinese authorities have imprisoned as many as 1 million Uighurs. But a Hong-Kong based human rights group puts the number even higher: between 2 million and 3 million.
Members of Congress have been pressuring the Trump administration to take action. The bipartisan Congressional Executive Committee on China, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), released a report earlier this month outlining China’s serious human rights abuses and its campaign of “state-sponsored repression.”
Here’s one of the most chilling paragraphs in the committee’s report:
Of particular concern is the mass, arbitrary, internment of as many as 1 million or more Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in ‘‘political reeducation’’ camps in western China. Reports indicate that this may be the largest incarceration of an ethnic minority population since World War II, and that it may constitute crimes against humanity.
Rubio and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who oversee the committee, proposed a bill earlier this month called the Xinjiang Uyghur Human Rights Act of 2018. The proposed legislation would give the US State Department resources to work with the UN to develop a response, leading to potential targeted sanctions on Chinese officials and broader economic sanctions against China.
“These are detention camps, these are reeducation camps, where people are killed, where they are tortured and they are brutalized in so many, many ways,” Smith said during a press conference announcing the committee’s findings earlier this month.
A State Department official told reporters back in April that the administration was considering sanctions against China in response to the camps, but six months has passed and the administration has done nothing.
President Donald Trump hasn’t even publicly acknowledged the fact that the camps exist.
Meanwhile, Chinese authorities are rounding up entire villages in Xinjiang, according to interviews conducted this summer by Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a coalition of Chinese and international human rights groups. Here is just one alarming quote from a Chinese business executive, who is not an ethnic Uighur but who has lived in the region for decades:
“Entire villages in Southern Xinjiang have been emptied of young and middle-aged people — all rounded up into re-education classes,” he said. “Only the elderly and the very docile are left in the villages.”
The organization urged the United States, the European Union, and other nations “to sanction top Chinese officials responsible for mass extrajudicial incarceration, discriminately targeting Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.”