Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture, in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), is home to several “open political re-education camps” that require Uyghurs to attend classes during the day and allow them to return home at night, according to 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 the XUAR, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
While investigating the camp detention of prominent ethnic Uyghur hotel owner Obulkasim Haji in Kashgar city, RFA’s Uyghur Service learned of the “open” camps from an officer at the Doletbagh police station, in the city’s Yuan Fang district.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFA that Haji’s eldest son Mehmet Sidiq had been required to attend a camp in Kashgar city’s Orda Aldi neighbourhood “for more than two months” that he said is “slightly different” from other re-education camps in the area.
The Orda Aldi Re-Education Camp is reserved for Uyghurs accused of “minor cases,” he said, who are made to “study in the morning, afternoon and the evenings” before being sent home at night.
“The serious cases are being sent to the ‘closed’ re-education camps,” where they are incarcerated, he added.
According to the officer, the Orda Aldi Re-Education Camp was built “about three years ago”—predating the regional government’s re-education policy—and was “one of the first to be established” in the area.
But he said other “open” camps also exist in Kashgar from which detainees can “return home in the evening,” including in the prefecture’s Yarkand (Shache) county.
“[Detainees study] from 9:00-11:00 a.m. in the morning, 2:00-4:00pm in the afternoon, and 7:00-9:00 p.m. in the evening—six to six and a half hours each day,” he said.
“In the mornings, there is flag-raising ceremony, after which they attend a political study class using material supplied by the provincial propaganda office. The cadres use different methodologies to convey the message to the people.”
The officer said that Uyghurs are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, and particularly the Chinese lyrics to the national anthem.
The detainees are regularly abused and harassed if their performance does not meet the expectations of their instructors, he said.
When asked how many re-education camps exist in Kashgar prefecture, the officer said he did not know.
But he confirmed earlier reports that the largest of Kashgar city’s four camps is the newly built No. 5 Middle School Re-Education Camp, located in the Eshmika neighborhood.
In January, a security official told RFA that around 120,000 Uyghurs are currently being held in re-education camps in Kashgar prefecture, and that tens of thousands of people are detained within Kashgar city alone.
The Doletbagh police officer’s claims about Uyghur detainees at camps being forced to recite the national anthem in Chinese echo reports of similar practices in Yarkand.
In February, RFA learned that a Uyghur named Tursun Ablet had hanged himself at his home in No. 1 village of the county’s Tomosteng township the previous month.
An officer who answered the phone at the Tomosteng Police Station told RFA at the time that he believed Ablet’s suicide was motivated by “verbal harassment” and “abuse of his dignity” he endured at the class because he was struggling with his studies.
A statement from a Uyghur who was made to take a “training course” at the camp Ablet attended said that after more than a dozen people in the class were unable to recite the national anthem in Chinese, the instructor told them that they had four days to learn it or he would “send us to a re-education camp for between six months and five years.”
A second statement confirmed that the instructor had berated the class, calling them “stupid, ignorant donkeys,” and threatening them with detention.
China's central government authorities have not publicly acknowledged the existence of re-education camps in the XUAR, and the number of inmates kept in each facility remains a closely guarded secret, but local officials in many parts of the region 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 XUAR 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.
Last month, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and U.S. Representative Chris Smith—the chair and co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China—called on U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad to visit Xinjiang and gather information on the detention of Uyghurs, which they termed "the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”
Since Xinjiang party chief Chen 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 by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.