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Muslims in China province detained in ‘re-education camps’, invasive surveillance on, say reports

Communist Party of China (CPC) cadres have been tasked with carrying out “home stays” with Muslim Uyghur families across the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region under an ongoing scheme broadly designed to “safeguard social stability”.

world Updated: May 17, 2018 23:34 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
China,Muslims,Ramzan
In this Nov. 3, 2017 photo, residents are seen with security personnel on the streets of Hotan in western China's Xinjiang region. China’s “strike hard” campaign in remote Xinjiang is set to intensify in the month of Ramzan with reports saying monitoring of minority Muslim communities in the province had become invasive.(AP Photo)

China’s “strike hard” campaign in remote Xinjiang is set to intensify in the month of Ramzan with one report saying monitoring of minority Muslim communities in the province had become invasive and another claiming that several thousand Muslims had been detained in “re-education camps”.

Thousands of Communist Party of China (CPC) cadres have been tasked with carrying out “home stays” with Muslim Uyghur families across the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) under an ongoing scheme broadly designed to “safeguard social stability”.

“During these visits, families are required to provide officials with information about their lives and political views and are subjected to political indoctrination,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released this week.

“Muslim families across Xinjiang are now literally eating and sleeping under the watchful eye of the state in their own homes. The latest drive adds to a whole host of pervasive – and perverse – controls on everyday life in Xinjiang,” HRW’s China researcher Maya Wang said.

The impetus is new but the idea of “homestay” surveillance is not.

“Since 2014, Xinjiang authorities have sent 200,000 cadres from government agencies, state-owned enterprises, and public institutions to regularly visit and surveil people. Authorities state that this initiative, known as ‘fanghuiju’ which stands for ‘Visit the People, Benefit the People, and Get Together the Hearts of the People’ and is broadly designed to “safeguard social stability.”

The largescale surveillance throughout the province has also led to the detention of thousands of men from Muslim minority communities in re-education camps, says the second report by Adrian Zenz from the European School of Culture and Theology in Korntal, Germany.

“While estimates of internment numbers remain speculative, the available evidence suggests that a significant percentage of Xinjiang’s Muslim minority population, likely at least several hundred thousand and possibly just over one million are or have been interned in political re-education facilities,” Zenz said in his report released this week.

Zenz cites official construction tenders as evidence of these camps being built.

“Official public tenders indicate the construction of such facilities on city, county, township and village levels. Overall, it is possible that the region’s re-education system exceeds the size of China’s entire former ‘education through labour’ system that was officially abolished in 2013,” Zenz wrote.

Zenz calls it the most “intense campaign of coercive social engineering since the Cultural Revolution”.

China’s ministry of foreign affairs (MFA) said it “had not heard” of the situation when asked by the Associated Press to comment on the camps.

The Chinese government has consistently blamed Islamic extremists for carrying out violent attacks targeting government offices and police stations in Xinjiang.

Authorities have put in place heavy restrictions on Muslims including a network of electronic surveillance including facial recognition. Certain forms of Islamic dress—such as the burqa for women and “abnormal” beard for men—are also banned.

Dozens of names with religious connotations common to Muslims around the world, such as Saddam and Medina are banned too on the basis that they could heighten religious fervour. Government employees are also restricted from marking Ramzan.

“The state’s proclaimed ‘war on terror’ in the region is increasingly turning into a war on religion, ethnic languages and other expressions of ethnic identity. Even more than before, the boundaries between state security, stability maintenance and ethnic assimilation are becoming blurred,” Zenz wrote.

First Published: May 17, 2018 13:41 IST