Authorities in Qaraqash (in Chinese, Moyu) county, in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), have detained nearly half of the population of a village in “political re-education camps,” according to a local official.
Beginning in 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.
A duty officer with the Chinibagh township police station in Qaraqash recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that in his home village of Yengisheher, almost all of the adult males from the area’s more than 1,700 households had been placed in camps, leaving few people behind to farm the local fields.
“Overall, 40 percent of the population in our village is currently in re-education camps,” said the officer, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity.
The officer acknowledged that village authorities were following an official directive previously reported by RFA which brands Uyghurs born in the 1980s and 1990s as “members of an unreliable and untrustworthy generation” and targets them for re-education because they are considered “susceptible” to influence by dangerous elements.
He said that “only children and old people” remain in the village, and that the local labor force had been decimated by the sweep.
“If the husband is taken away, his wife must take over his work, and where there are young children in a family … they must help in the fields,” the officer said.
For families with no remaining able-bodied members, “the village cadres have made arrangements for their fields to be cultivated by other people,” he added.
The officer, who said he helps to question detainees, said none of his siblings had been placed in the camps because his grandfather had taught them to “refrain from anything which would get us into trouble, and to always be loyal and give a good impression to the authorities.”
“From a very young age, we followed the call of the [ruling Chinese Communist] party.”
When asked how many residents of Chinibagh township have been detained in the camps, the officer said he was unsure, and referred questions to his supervisor.
The officer’s claim comes after the party secretary of Qaraqash’s Aqsaray township told RFA at the end of last year that he and other township officials had received an order from county-level authorities to target 40 percent of the population for re-education.
At the time, RFA found that around 5,000 of Qaraqash’s population of 34,000 people—or nearly 15 percent of the county’s residents—had already been taken away to re-education camps.
Reports suggest similar orders for “quotas” have been given in other areas of the XUAR, 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'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.
Citing credible reports, lawmakers Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, who head the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said recently that as many as 500,000 to a million people are or have been detained in the reeducation camps, calling it ”the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, said the number “could be closer to 1.1 million, which equates to 10-11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the region."
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.