A UN human rights committee this week raised the alarm about reports that China is holding up to a million Uighurs in what are being termed "counter-extremism centers" in the western Xinjiang autonomous region. Gay McDougall of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raised the claims at a two-day meeting on China held at the UN's Geneva headquarters. McDougall termed the centers "political camps for indoctrination,” and raised the prospect that Beijing has "turned the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp." Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have submitted reports to the UN committee detailing claims of mass detention. The World Uyghur Congress said in its report that detainees are held indefinitely without charge, and forced to shout Communist Party slogans. (BBC News, Reuters)
Beijing issued a sweeping denial of the claims. "There is no such thing as re-education centers," a senior Chinese Communist Party official told the New York Times.
But reports of a totalizing police state in Xinjiang continue to mount, even apart from the claims about the "re-education centers." Beijing has reportedly required the Islamic Association of China, which oversaw the current hajj to Mecca by Chinese Muslims, to see that all pilgrims wear GPS tracking devices at all times, to monitor their whereabouts while outside of the country. The devices also contain cards with personal identifying information to ensure that they can not be exchanged. (Taiwan News)
Yet such methods almost always prove counter-productive, leading to resentment that only further fuels the unrest that Chinese authorities are responding to.
Dramatic evidence of this was reported this week from Ningxia, another province with a large Muslim populaiton (although Hui, or Chinese-speaking Muslim, rather than the Turkic Uighurs). Hundreds of Muslims engaged in a multi-day standoff with police to prevent the newly built Weizhou Grand Mosque from being destroyed by authorities. Officials said it had not received proper building permits. But BBC News points to what may be an underlying political reason for the decision to demolish: "For centuries Hui Muslim mosques were built in a more Chinese style, and it appears that the new structure is viewed by the local government as an example of a growing Arabisation of Chinese Islam." After days of local protest, authorities on Aug. 12 backed down and agreed to postpone the demolition. (SCMP)
Photo of protest at Weizhou Grand Mosque from Weibo via BBC News