Authorities in a county of northwest China’s Xinjiang region that is largely populated by Muslim ethnic Uyghurs have been ordered to send almost half of area residents to re-education camps, according to officials, who say they are struggling to meet the number.
Officials from two villages in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture’s Qaraqash (Moyu) county recently acknowledged to RFA’s Uyghur Service that they had been given a target percentage for arrests as part of a verbal directive issued by higher-level authorities during an “online conference.”
Since Xinjiang Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo was appointed to run the region in August last year, he has initiated several harsh policies targeting the religious freedom of Uyghurs.
The new quota for sending residents to re-education camps appears to be Chen’s latest measure aimed at assimilating members of the ethnic minority, who complain of pervasive ethnic discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule in the region.
When asked about whether a target percentage of re-education arrests had been ordered by authorities, an official from No. 1 Village, in Qaraqash’s Aqsaray township, confirmed the directive, but referred RFA to the local Communist Party secretary—who had recently been admitted to the hospital and was unreachable—for the exact number.
But a police officer from Aqsaray’s No. 2 Village, said he had been informed during an “online conference” in mid-June that his department was to detain 40 percent of the local population for exhibiting signs of “religious extremism.”
No deadline was set for the initiative, he added.
“We were told to target people who are religious … for example, those who grow beards despite being young,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“There are 82 people who have been placed in re-education camps [since the order was given], and 61 [of them were later] imprisoned … This is far from the expectations of village officials, but compared to other districts in the township, we have the best rate in achieving our target.”
According to the officer, No. 2 Village is home to 2,060 people, meaning his department had failed to send even four percent of the population for re-education since the order was given.
The department had planned to send an additional 85 people for re-education by the end of September, he said.
An officer at the Shaptul township police station in neighboring Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture’s Peyziwat (Jiashi) county told RFA that while he had not been given a target percentage of people to detain for re-education camps, he was informed at an online staff meeting in June that 80 percent of those arrested were to be “severely punished,” including those with “extreme views.”
“We were not given exact numbers [to arrest], but we must ensure that we do not miss anyone with extreme views and we must punish 80 percent of all those arrested severely,” said the officer, who also asked to remain unnamed.
“We didn’t receive any formal documentation—it was all announced during one of our meetings. These days, we have online conferences, where we meet in the police station and view the monitor to listen to speeches.”
According to the officer, 46 people had been detained in Shaptul since the order was given—33 of whom were imprisoned.
While the imprisonment rate meant that his department had only “severely punished” nearly 72 percent of detainees, the officer said that the remaining 13 people had been placed in re-education camps, and that they could be sent to jail at a later date.
“If we find any evidence against them during re-education, they will be transferred to prison,” he said.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party blames some Uyghurs for a string of violent attacks and clashes in China in recent years, but critics say the government has exaggerated the threat from the ethnic group, and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for violence that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur homes that sources say in some areas have detained one member of every two households.
At the end of last month, sources told RFA that re-education camps in Ghulja (Yining) county, in Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture, and Korla (Kuerle) city, in neighboring Bayin’gholin Mongol (Bayinguoleng Menggu) Autonomous Prefecture, hold at least 3,600 inmates and are labeled “career development centers” in a bid to mask their true nature.
The thousands of “politically incorrect” inmates are rarely freed despite undergoing months of “training,” the sources said.
Investigations by RFA suggest there is a vast network of re-education camps throughout the Xinjiang region.
Sources indicate that there are almost no majority ethnic Han Chinese held in the Xinjiang camps, and that the number of detainees in the region’s south—where the highest concentration of Uyghurs are based—far surpasses that in the north.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.