Surviving China’s Uighur camps
France 24, 10 May 2019
ByIn China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, more than one million ethnic Uighurs are believed to be held in internment camps. The authorities call them “re-education through labour camps”, but victims say the reality is forced indoctrination for Uighurs held in alarming conditions. From China to Canada, via Turkey and France, our reporters Angélique Forget and Antoine Védeilhé investigated the plight of the Uighurs and gathered rare testimony. This is their exclusive report.
Human rights groups are calling it the largest mass incarceration of the 21st century. In the Chinese province of Xinjiang – three times the size of France – houses, streets and sometimes entire villages have been emptied of their inhabitants. Accused of religious extremism, they are sent to “re-education through labour camps” or “vocational training” centres, as the authorities call them, without any form of trial.
According UN experts, more than one million Uighur citizens – members of a Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority – are held in these camps, which are in reality huge prisons. Detainees are reportedly tortured and brainwashed by the Communist Party.
A gigantic police state
In the name of “fighting terrorism” – attacks blamed on Uighurs have killed hundreds in recent years – China has turned the whole of Xinjiang province into a gigantic police state. Surveillance cameras are everywhere: at the entrance to schools, supermarkets or even train stations. The police and army patrol the whole territory. Searches and identity checks are systematic. Craftsman, singer, cook, teacher or taxi driver — no one is spared.
And the repression of the Uighurs does not stop at China’s borders. We spoke to several people outside the country who told us they had faced pressure: a passport renewal request refused; threats against families who remain in Xinjiang. Even in France, some Uighurs of French nationality say they’ve been harassed and threatened at a distance by the Chinese authorities.
For more than a year, our reporters Angélique Forget and Antoine Védeilhé investigated the plight of the Uighurs and gathered exclusive testimony recounting the horror of the camps. Their investigation took them from Canada to Europe, where the families of missing Uighurs are seeking justice; via Kazakhstan and Turkey, where the last Uighurs to have fled China are hiding out; and finally to Xinjiang, where journalists are not welcome but where they were able to approach a camp. They bring us this exclusive report on the new Chinese concentration camp system.