Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang are using age as one of the criteria to determine whether to detain Uyghurs in the region’s network of political “re-education camps,” as those born after 1980 are considered “violent” and “untrustworthy,” according to official sources.
Since April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” views have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout Xinjiang, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
Official announcements have stated that those who are sent to the camps include former prisoners, suspects and anyone who has travelled overseas, and say the camps will “cleanse” them of ideology that endangers state security.
But official sources in Bayanday township, Ili Kazakh (in Chinese, Yili Hasake) Autonomous prefecture’s Ghulja (Yining) county, recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that some of the detainees from their villages had been pre-emptively targeted for re-education simply because they were younger than 40 years of age and “susceptible” to influence by dangerous elements.
“People born in the 1980s and 1990s have been categorized as part of a violent generation—many of whom have been taken into re-education under this category,” the security chief of Bayanday’s No. 2 Village said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Similar criteria are being used to blacklist residents of Bayanday’s No. 3 Village for re-education—even if there is nothing “suspicious” about their words or actions—according to the village’s head of women’s affairs, who also declined to be named.
“Young people who were born during the 1980s and 1990s are branded as members of an unreliable and untrustworthy generation,” she said.
“As they belong to that generation, they are easily influenced by dangerous people, therefore there is a need for them to be sent for re-education in order to prevent them from adopting incorrect ideology.”
The head of women’s affairs said that “the majority” of those being sent to re-education camps from her village had been born in the two decades prior to the new millennium, adding that indoctrination at the camps “prevent[s] them from choosing the wrong path,” because their youth makes it “easy for them to be misled.”
When asked about the recent arrest of a 32-year-old woman from her village named Hanipe Kerim, the women’s affairs official said that she was taken into custody “under the category of young people who were born in the 1980s and 1990s, who are considered to be from an unsettled, violent generational period.”
Kerim’s mother confirmed that authorities had given the same reason to her family when they detained her.
“They said that people who were born in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s are categorized as ‘unsettled people,’” she said, adding that she could think of no other reason why her daughter might have been taken away.
“[The police] told me to remember the reason. I wrote it down because I was worried that I would forget. I remember they said that she belongs to the generation of unsettled youth.”
China's central government authorities have not publicly acknowledged the existence of re-education camps in Xinjiang, and the number of inmates kept in each facility remains a closely guarded secret, but local officials in many parts of Xinjiang have in RFA telephone interviews forthrightly described sending significant numbers of Uyghurs to the camps and even described overcrowding in some facilities.
Maya Wang of the New York-based Human Rights Watch told The Guardian in January that estimates of Xinjiang residents who had spent time in the camps went as high as 800,000, while at least one Uyghur exile group estimates that up to 1 million Uyghurs have been detained throughout the region since April 2017, and some Uyghur activists say nearly every Uyghur household has been affected by the campaign.
Since Xinjiang party chief Chen Quanguo was appointed to his post in August 2016, he has initiated unprecedented repressive measures against the Uyghur people and ideological purges against so-called “two-faced” Uyghur officials—a term applied by the government to Uyghurs who do not willingly follow directives and exhibit signs of “disloyalty.”
China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.
While China blames some Uyghurs for "terrorist" attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.