A leak of thousands of photos and official documents from China’s Xinjiang has shed new light on the atrocious methods used to enforce mass internment in the region.
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Dimensions of the Article
- What is the leak about?
- Who are the Uighurs?
- Where is Xinjiang?
- What was the build-up to the crackdown?
- Chinese Narrative
What is the leak about?
- After initially denying their existence, Beijing has claimed the facilities are vocational training schools, attended voluntarily and aimed at stamping out religious extremism.
- But the leaked documents give an insight into how leaders saw the minority population as a security threat.
- Photos appear to show officers restraining hooded and shackled inmates with batons, while other guards wearing camouflage stand by with firearms.
Who are the Uighurs?
- There are about 12 million Uighurs, mostly Muslim, living in north-western China in the region of Xinjiang, officially known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
- The Uighurs speak their own language, similar to Turkish, and see themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations.
- They make up less than half of the Xinjiang population.
- In recent decades, there’s been a mass migration of Han Chinese (China’s ethnic majority) to Xinjiang, and the Uighurs feel their culture and livelihoods are under threat.
- In the early 20th Century, the Uighurs briefly declared independence, but the region was brought under complete control of mainland China’s new Communist government in 1949.
Where is Xinjiang?
- Xinjiang lies in the north-west of China and is the country’s biggest region.
- Like Tibet, it is autonomous, meaning – in theory – it has some powers of self-governance. But in practice, both face major restrictions by the central government.
- It is a mostly desert region, producing about a fifth of the world’s cotton.
- It is also rich in oil and natural gas and because of its proximity to Central Asia and Europe is seen by Beijing as an important trade link.
What was the build-up to the crackdown?
- Anti-Han and separatist sentiment rose in Xinjiang from the 1990s, flaring into violence on occasion.
- In 2009 some 200 people died in clashes in Xinjiang, which the Chinese blamed on Uighurs who want their own state.
- Xinjiang is now covered by a pervasive network of surveillance, including police, checkpoints, and cameras that scan everything from number plates to individual faces.
- According to Human Rights Watch, police are also using a mobile app to monitor peoples’ behaviour, such as how much electricity they are using and how often they use their front door.
- Since 2017 when President Xi Jinping issued an order saying all religions in China should be Chinese in orientation, there have been further crackdowns.
- China says the crackdown is necessary to prevent terrorism and root out Islamist extremism and the camps are an effective tool for re-educating inmates in its fight against terrorism.
- It insists that Uighur militants are waging a violent campaign for an independent state by plotting bombings, sabotage and civic unrest.
- China has dismissed claims it is trying to reduce the Uighur population through mass sterilizations as “baseless”, and says allegations of forced labour are “completely fabricated”.
Source – The Hindu