Thousands of ethnic Uighurs placed into “re-education” camps in response to unrest

Image source: BBC

By Joshua Boscaini | @j_boscaini

China is in the spotlight once again for the abuse of the Uighur people in the far north-west region of Xinjiang.

 The region—unknown to many—borders Mongolia, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India; its population is predominantly Islamic; and its language similar to Turkish.

Google maos
Image source: Google Maps

Recently, the region has seen unrest and demonstrations, but has avoided major international attention as the disruptions have been held close to the chests of Chinese officials.

Activists in the region say the unrest is due to growing ethnic cultural Chinese practices imposed on the Uighurs by the state.

These tensions have led to large-scale crackdowns on the community, dating back to the 1990s.

Amnesty International said the new Communist Party representative of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, Chen Quanguo, is placing emphasis on “social stability”.

The human rights group said there are multiple detention facilities which are named “education and transformation centres” and “political study centres”.

Around 120,000 members of the Uighur community have been placed in the “re-education camps” where they are reportedly forced to watch propaganda and denounce their own religion.

Amnesty said Chinese authorities are also preventing a wide range of “extremist” behaviours, such as wearing burqas, having “abnormal” beards and resisting national policies.

The government has also issued a list of prohibited names—most of which were Islamic in origin.

But, the Chinese Government says a string of attacks from Xinjiang separatists is what is driving the “re-education”.

One of those incidents included a hijack attempt on a flight from Hotan to Urumqi in June 2012—the reported attackers were overpowered by passengers and crew.

Shortly after this was an incident where a car launched into crowds in Tiananmen Square, in October 2013, which was also blamed on Xinjiang separatists.

There are limited facts on these cases, the truthfulness of the allegations, and Xinjiang involvement because of restrictions on journalists to verify those facts; censorship in China not only restricts their citizens, but restricts the flow of information accessed internationally.

A local connection

One Uighur man, who became an Australian citizen in 2014 after leaving China, has told the ABC his wife was taken from her home by plain-clothed police officers.

Adelaide construction worker, Almas Nizamidin, told the ABC he hastily travelled back to Xinjiang to try and find his wife, and was shocked by the government’s heavy-handed ruling.

“It looked like an occupation,” Mr Nizamidin told the ABC.

“There were lines of tanks on the streets, and a police blockhouse every 100 metres, where police officers scan people’s IDs and the contents of their phones.”

Mr Nizamidin’s account of Xinjiang is rare.

Many Uighur people in Australia are too worried to speak out against the Chinese Government in fear of retribution.

You can read more of Almas Nizamidin’s account here.

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