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New Xinjiang leaks detail China’s massive detention system targeting Uyghurs

This photo taken on June 4, 2019 shows the Chinese flag behind razor wire at a housing compound in Yangisar, south of Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang region.
This photo taken on June 4, 2019 shows the Chinese flag behind razor wire at a housing compound in Yangisar, south of Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang region. GREG BAKER / AFP

A third document giving details of China’s system of detention and re-education centers in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region reveals why some 300 Muslim Uyghurs and some 2,000 members of their direct family were locked up in centres to undergo forced re-education. The document gives an increasingly sharp picture of China’s policy towards its Muslim minority.

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“Abdulmalik was sent to a re-education center because he overstayed a visit to one of 26 critically sensitive countries and is a suspicious person.

“From May to September 2016 he visited Saudi Arabia for 128 days .... he poses a threat and we recommend he continue his re-education.

This is a suggestion for one of the 311 people listed in the leaked “Karakax List,” a list of mainly Muslim Uyghur prisoners in detention in re-education centers in the Xinjiang prefecture of Karakax.

The list was given to China researcher Adrian Zenz, of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation late November last year by Dutch Uyghur woman Asiye Abdulaheb, who says she got it from contacts within Xinjiang, and partly published by AP, CNN and other media outlets on 17 February.

Part of the "Karakax list" a leaked document giving names of Uyghurs detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang, China.
Part of the "Karakax list" a leaked document giving names of Uyghurs detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang, China. Screen grab "Karakax list"

“Wife was wearing a veil”

The list focuses on "students sent to re-education who are family of people who went abroad and never came back. It details the “location of re-education”, “start date” of detention, ID number and “neighborhood” of the suspect and “reason for re-education.”

These are the reasons Chinese authorities use to send Uyghurs into forced re-education, including “wife was wearing a veil,” “violated family planning policy,” or “post-‘80s generation untrustworthy individual.”

"The local authorities on county level will be allocated a quota of people, and they'll have to find people to send to these re-education centers," reckons Michael Dillon, China specialist and author of Xinjiang and the Expansion of Chinese Communist Power, "and then they have to find some sort of offence to put against it."

"This is the real problem for Uyghurs who are living outside Xinjiang," he says, "their relatives within Xinjiang are being targeted and that puts pressure on them when they are outside, not to say things against the Beijing goverment."

Special training

Initially, China denied the very existence of the camps, but an article in the state-sponsored Global Times said that “1.1 million citizens working for start-ups, college students and those who had difficulty finding a job” would be provided with “special training.”

Subsequent leaks of internal documents revealed that China set up the camps to “correct” its 12 million strong Muslim population through “re-education” that encourages people to step away from religion, while indoctrinating them with speeches of Communist Party leaders and suggesting they speak Mandarin rather than the Uyghur language.

“It is very difficult to get information on this,” says Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, contacted by RFI. “This is definite evidence, it is an example of what the Chinese government tries to hide.”

Stasi-like

The Stasi-like Karakax list also includes information on the “three circles” status of the suspect: his family circle (with often up to ten names mentioned, including children, parents and in-laws,) the “social circle” (friends, neighbors) and the “religious circle” with details about frequency and location of prayers and contacts with religious people.

In total, the document includes 2,802 adult persons.

The “Karakax List” is the third leak of documents exposing China’s treatment of Uighurs in re-education camps after the “Xinjiang Papers,” published by the New York Times on 16 November, consisting of 400 pages of internal documents exposing the bureaucratic inner workings of the system, speeches by Xi Jinping and other officials and directives on surveillance and control over Xinjiang’s muslim population.

The second big leak, nicknamed the “China Cables” was published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on November 24 includes the “telegram,” a nine-page operations manual for running the mass detention centers.

Since the 2009 riots in Xinjiang, Beijing significantly increased its repression of Uyghur muslims.

Researcher Zenz was one of the first to signal the increasing number of detention centres.

The exact number of Uyghur detainees is not known, but Zenz estimates it’s "close to a million."

In his report on China's re-education campaign in Xinjiang entitled "Thoroughly reforming them towards a healthy heart attitude," he says that "untold thousands of Uyghurs and other Muslims are being detained in clandestine political re-education facilities.

“We do know from official government reports that the camp system was being set up at different administrative levels," he told RFI.

He combined piecemeal evidence such as procurement bills for buildings and fences, with eye witness reports “and the fact that just about any Uyghur family that you talk to has somebody detained, in many cases the majority of family members are detained.”

Mass surveillance

Apart from Uyghurs being detained, human rights organisations say they have noted an aggressive increase of electronic surveillance of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

In its report “China’s Algorithms of Repression,” Human Rights Watch managed to reverse-engineer an application used by the Xinjiang police.

"We found that authorities have been conducting mass surveillance of the population of Xinjiang," says Maya Wang, who helped write the report.

“They check the car registration, their access to gas stations, tracking the movement of the vehicles, ID cards, phones.

"The app registers if and when someone leaves the country, and keeps track, and reports, many of his or her moves.

“If these data raise suspicion, police can take a closer look,” says Wang.
“Some of these people are then sent to political education or other detention facilities.

Not lucky yet

It is not clear how long detainees are required to undergo forced re-education. But Dolkun estimates the minimum period is a year.

According to the Karakax list, detainees undergo a thorough investigation before authorities recommend release.

“Rozimemet X,” who “violated family planning policy” and who comes from a deeply religious family, is not lucky yet. “Currently this individual shows average progress in reforming his ideas and needs to more deeply recognise his mistake,” write the authorities. “We recommend he continues his re-education.”

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