Authorities are imposing regular “home stays” on Muslim Uyghur families in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) as part of an increasingly invasive “strike hard” campaign, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), which called on Beijing to put an end to the practice.
Since early 2018, Muslim—and particularly Uyghur—families have been required to invite officials into their homes and provide them with information about their lives and political views, HRW said in a statement on Sunday, adding that the hosts are also subjected to political indoctrination.
“The Chinese government should immediately end this visitation program, which violates rights to privacy and family life and the cultural rights of ethnic minorities protected under international human rights law,” the statement said.
Maya Wang, senior China researcher at HRW, said that the new policy had left Muslim families throughout the XUAR “literally eating and sleeping under the watchful eye of the state.”
“The latest drive adds to a whole host of pervasive—and perverse—controls on everyday life in Xinjiang,” Wang added.
HRW noted that in December 2017, it said, authorities greatly expanded an October 2016 drive called “Becoming Family”—which saw more than 100,000 officials visit mostly Uyghur homes in southern XUAR every two months—to mobilize more than a million cadres to spend a week living in homes, primarily in rural areas.
The “home stay” program was extended in early 2018 and cadres now spend at least five days every two months in the families’ homes, HRW said, adding that “there is no evidence to suggest that families can refuse such visits.”
During the visits, cadres “collect and update information about the families,” including whether they have local hukous—household registration—or are migrants from another region, their political views, and their religion. The cadres report on any “problems” and can act to “rectify” the situation.
They also carry out political indoctrination, including promoting Chinese president “Xi Jinping Thought,” and warning people against the dangers of “pan-Islamism,” which is seen as a threat to Beijing’s rule.
The cadres teach the families Mandarin Chinese, make them sing the national anthem and other songs praising the ruling Communist Party in Chinese, and ensure families take part in a weekly flag-raising ceremony.
The activities are documented in reports submitted with accompanying photos—many of which can be found on the social media accounts of participating agencies—and show scenes of cadres involved in the most intimate aspects of domestic life, such as making beds and sleeping together, sharing meals, and feeding and tutoring children. There is no indication the families have consented to the posting of these images online.
“China’s deeply invasive forced assimilation practices against Muslims not only violate basic rights, but are also likely to foster and deepen resentment in the region,” Wang said.
“Xinjiang authorities should immediately end the ‘Strike Hard’ campaign and all the related abuses.”
In June last year, sources told RFA’s Uyghur Service that authorities in the XUAR were doubling down on a bid to prevent Muslim Uyghurs from fasting and praying during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan by embedding Chinese officials in their homes, but the new findings from HRW suggest the “home stay” policy has become much more pervasive since the beginning of the year.
Turning homes into prisons
Munich-based World Uyghur Congress president Dolkun Isa on Monday called the campaign “unconscionable” and said it was doing more to harm ethnic relations than promote harmony in the region.
“It’s not just a simple invasion of privacy, but the total annihilation of the safety, security and well-being of family members,” Isa told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“China has, in effect, turned Uyghurs’ homes into prisons from which there is no escape. Under such a campaign of systematic indoctrination and intimidation, Uyghurs and Chinese will never ‘become family’ members.”
Isa noted that the “home stay” campaign was implemented alongside the jailing and detention in “political re-education camps” of Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” views—a policy that has been in effect since April last year and has seen nearly all the adult male residents of Uyghur communities rounded up by authorities.
“How can Chinese officials ‘live, eat and sleep’ among Uyghur families whose men have been arbitrarily and extrajudicially detained by the Chinese government,” he asked.
“Such policies and actions of the Chinese government must be condemned by the international community, and Chinese officials who have been involved in designing and implementing them should be held accountable under international law and the Magnitsky Act in the U.S.”
Last month, Senator Marco Rubio called in an open letter for U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad to visit the XUAR with the aim of investigating claims of “mass surveillance and detention” of Uyghurs, and asked him to determine whether Washington should level sanctions against those responsible for the policies under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
Rubio termed the detention of Uyghurs in re-education camps “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”
Also on Monday, the eve of Ramadan, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCRIF) denounced what it called an “increasing crackdown on Uighur Muslims” by the Chinese government in the XUAR, which it said “increasingly resembles a police state.”
“The Chinese government’s pervasive policies and intrusive security controls deny Uighur Muslims’ basic civil liberties and human rights and interfere with the practice of their faith, including during the holy month of Ramadan,” which begins on Tuesday, USCRIF said.
USCRIF chairman Daniel Mark said the Chinese government’s restrictions on Uyghurs “are an attempt to assimilate a besieged religious and ethnic minority,” and that by installing cadres in homes and detaining Uyghurs in re-education camps, authorities have “created a culture of fear, suspicion, and mistrust throughout Xinjiang.”
“The government’s actions are disrupting entire communities as they try to live their lives and practice their faith in peace,” Mark added.
USCRIF noted that in addition to longstanding restrictions on Uyghur religious practice during Ramadan, the government has installed a multifaceted security grid in the region, comprised of armed checkpoints, facial and iris recognition software, and cell phone monitoring.
Additionally, the government has sought to “stymie the growth” of the next generation of Uyghurs through methods such as a ban on Uyghur language instruction in school, the prohibition of children from attending mosques, and proscribing Islamic baby names considered “extreme.”
USCRIF called on the U.S. government to sanction regional and national government officials and agencies involved in religious freedom violations in the XUAR through the Magnitsky Act, the International Religious Freedom Act, and other measures.
It called for China to remain designated as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. China has been repeatedly designated a CPC since 1999.
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 Alim Seytoff for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.