More than two months since the Communist Party Congress in Beijing, authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang region continue to place ethnic Uyghurs deemed “extremists” in political re-education camps, despite assurances the detentions would end after the sensitive annual meeting.
Since April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “extremist” 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.
The detentions ramped up ahead of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, held Oct. 18-24 last year, with officials claiming that the campaign was part of “safety measures” to prevent violent incidents around the time of the event.
Some local officials in Xinjiang had told family members arrests would end and detainees be returned home when the Congress was concluded, but sources recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that authorities continue to round up residents more than two months later.
According to an official from Aqsaray township’s No. 1 village, in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture’s Qaraqash (Moyu) county, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, police arrested dozens of Uyghurs and placed them in a re-education camp as recently as last month.
“There were 85 people sent to the re-education camps in our township [on Dec. 18], and more were taken there [on Dec. 28],” he said, confirming that 33 additional residents had been arrested in the second roundup—bringing to 118 the total detained within a 10-day period.
An official from neighboring Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture’s Poskam (Zepu) county, who also asked to remain unnamed, told RFA that authorities have been instructed to “make sure that everything is safe” while patrolling the streets of the county, and that they had been provided with notebooks including a list of “the names and pictures of individuals on record” to be detained.
One suspect on the list was identified as Abdusemet Metkerim, 23, from Talbagh village, in Poskam’s Seyli township.
“He had illegal religious video materials in his possession,” the official said of Metkerim, adding that authorities had issued a warrant in the young man’s name in September.
Additional names on the list were not immediately available, he said, as it was “locked up in a drawer” at the time of the phone call.
Prior reporting by RFA has found that as arrests in Xinjiang have increased in recent months, the region’s re-education camps have been inundated by detainees, who are forced to endure cramped and squalid conditions in the facilities.
Sources say that authorities often convert government buildings and schools into makeshift re-education camps to deal with the overcrowding, and routinely shift detainees between locations—that include prisons—without informing their family members.
In Bayin’gholin Mongol (Bayinguoleng Menggu) Autonomous Prefecture’s Korla city—where sources told RFA last week that as many as 1,000 people have been admitted to the city’s detention facilities over the course of a few days—a local government employee named Erkin Bawdun recently said that area re-education camps “are completely full.”
“One of my friends overheard the camp governor shouting at police over his walkie-talkie, saying ‘Please stop bringing people, there is no more space here in the camp for anyone,” said Bawdun, who helps to oversee Lengger village, in Korla’s Awat township.
Authorities regularly detain residents for allegedly “extremist” incidents that took place years before Xinjiang party chief Chen Quanguo was appointed to his post in August 2016 and began implementing several harsh policies targeting religious freedom in the region.
According to Bawdun, Awat township maintains a “department for cases of special concern” that had recently detained a group of 13 women who “gathered and listened to religious preaching” some six years ago.
Bawdun’s manager confirmed that “in 2012, they gathered at a house and conducted religious teachings.”
“Four of them were arrested in July, and the remaining nine were taken away [in late December],” the manager said.
None of the women had received sentences, he said, and it was unclear where they had been taken.
“They won’t be taken to the re-education camps because they are treated as part of a special case and will be dealt with separately,” he added.
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.