Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang region are ramping up detentions in a mostly ethnic Uyghur-populated township of Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining) city in response to a directive that has seen scores of residents placed in political “re-education camps” in recent weeks, with an increasing focus on women, sources said.
Since April last year, ethnic Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious beliefs” and “politically incorrect” views have been 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.
Sources familiar with the situation recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that a “special investigation team on re-education” was sent by the regional government to Ghulja, in Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous prefecture, which found that far fewer people from the city were being detained in re-education camps than in Xinjiang’s mostly Uyghur-populated southern region.
Local officials were criticized by the team for “not doing enough” to implement government policies, and responded by increasing the number of detentions in townships under Ghulja’s administration with higher concentrations of Uyghur residents, the sources said.
Officials from at least two of the seven villages in Ghulja’s Bayanday township, where more than 50 percent of the 33,130 residents are Uyghurs, confirmed to RFA that they had been instructed by higher-level authorities to ramp up detentions there since March 3, although they were unable to specify why they had been ordered to do so.
The security chief of No. 2 Village said that 254 residents out of the 1,070 households under his administration—or nearly one member of every four homes—are currently held in re-education camps, and that 62 of them had been taken into custody since March 3.
The chief said he had “received orders from above” and was “implementing the requirements demanded by the regional government,” adding that he was told to attain a quota of detainees, without providing further details.
A staff member who answered the phone at Bayanday’s No. 3 Village committee told RFA on condition of anonymity that his office had been instructed to send “10 percent” of the 4,131 residents living in 1,073 households under its supervision to re-education camps.
“As of now, there are 244 [in the camps] in total,” he said, noting that the number included 62 people who had been detained in a drive from March 6-8.
Another staffer at the No. 3 Village committee, who also declined to provide her name, said that of the residents held in camps, “some we identified as key figures or the relatives of key figures who are living overseas—people who have travelled abroad.”
“Also, anyone who has made contact with those we consider to be dangerous,” she said of the reason for the detentions.
Of the recent detentions, the staffer said that her office was “given a list of the people and the reasons for them to be sent for re-education.”
Sources familiar with the situation in Bayanday told RFA that 60 percent of the residents of No. 2 and No. 3 villages are Uyghurs, and that as many as one member of every two Uyghur families in the two villages had been sent for re-education.
But the staffer at the No. 3 Village committee said that the rate of detention among Uyghurs in her area was even higher.
“At the moment we can say one person from every [Uyghur] household,” she said.
She added that during the latest detention, “more women were taken in” than men, despite previous reports from Ghulja which said that so many male residents of the city had been taken into custody that it had led to a labor shortage in the area.
“In our district alone, 70-80 [of the 244 held in camps] are women,” she said.
The head of the No. 5 Neighborhood Committee in Bayanday’s No. 3 Village, which administers around 400 households, also suggested that authorities were increasingly detaining women in his area.
Since April last year, 125 residents had been detained in camps, he said, including more than 30 in the first week of March.
While previous roundups had included few women, the most recent saw authorities nab “five, mostly young women,” he said.
Quotas in effect
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.”
In December, sources told RFA that authorities had detained nearly 10 percent of the population of Kashgar Kona Sheher (Shufu) county’s Bullaqsu township in Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture, and that so many of the county’s residents had been taken into custody during 2017 that it had left some townships with “hardly any males to be seen.”
Officials in Hotan (Hetian) prefecture’s Qaraqash (Moyu) county earlier told RFA that they had been ordered to send 40 percent of area residents to re-education camps, and said they were having trouble meeting the quota. Meanwhile, Uyghur women and children are being forced to endure heavy labor to make up for wages lost by the detained men in their families.
Reports suggest similar orders for “quotas” have been given in other areas of Xinjiang, and that authorities are detaining as many Uyghurs as possible in re-education camps and jail, regardless of their age, prior service to the Communist Party, or the severity of the accusations against them.
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.