Authorities in Korla (in Chinese, Kuerle) city, in northwest China’s Xinjiang region are detaining ethnic Uyghurs in re-education camps for traveling overseas and refusing to free them until they admit it was “wrong” to have left the country, according to a security official.
Last month, sources told RFA’s Uyghur Service 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.
Many of those detained are Muslim Uyghurs who have been accused of harboring “extremist” views after returning to the Xinjiang region from government sanctioned visits to family members or religious studies at Islamic universities in countries including Turkey and Egypt.
The director of Public Security in Korla’s Qara Yulghun village recently told RFA that while going abroad is a “citizen’s right,” those who travel overseas are “influenced by extremism and other things” and his department is determined to force them to acknowledge it.
Anyone who is detained at a re-education camp after having travelled abroad will first be interrogated by instructors about their impressions and how the experience had changed them, said the director, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“For example, we ask whether the lifestyle is the same and what the food is like,” he said.
“Then we ask, ‘What is the living standard like and what influenced you? Did you meet people who had [relocated from] China or anyone who cannot return because they have bad intentions?”
Specifically, the director said, instructors ask detainees whether there are Uyghurs in the country they visited, and whether they met with them or tried to contact them, but “the majority say that they only travelled with a tour company and that none of what we ask them occurred.”
Only after being subjected to “law and regulation education” do the detainees express “remorse” for having left the country and spoken with neighbors about what impressed them about their visit, he said.
“During the re-education, they will say … “Yes, it was a mistake to travel abroad, when the [ruling Communist] Party and government have created such a high living standard in our own country—we were ungrateful when we decided to go to elsewhere,’” the director said.
“With the understanding of the regulations of our country, they naturally realize that what they have experienced and their reaction [to having travelled] is against the rule of law here. So they, themselves, state that what they have thought and done is inappropriate.”
The director told RFA that, in some cases, detainees require coaching until they understand what they have done “wrong.”
“When they bring us their letter of remorse, we review it and tell them what is incorrect or missing, and we ask them to correct it,” he said.
“If the detainees don’t write a letter of remorse, or if the letter is not comprehensive, they will have to be re-educated [about traveling abroad] until they produce one that is satisfactory.”
Only at that point are detainees permitted to return to their “studies” for general re-education, and potentially be granted the right to return to their homes and families.
“We tell them that if they achieve a satisfactory result, they can resume their [re-education] sooner,” he said.
“If they don’t study hard and cure their disease, we have no choice but to continue giving them medicine. When the disease is cured, they will feel it themselves, and we can also see it from their actions and behavior.”
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.
Earlier this week, sources told RFA that authorities in two villages in Hotan (Hetian) prefecture’s Qaraqash (Moyu) county had been ordered to send 40 percent of area residents to re-education camps, and that they are struggling to meet the quota.
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.