The Guardian view on Xinjiang’s detention camps: not just China’s shame
  • Mon, 03/18/2019 - 22:08

Sun 17 Mar 2019 14.29 EDT
Last modified on Mon 18 Mar 2019 09.49 EDT

An “A-list” comedian, well-known singers, scholars, pensioners and civil servants – the list of prisoners grows. As many as 1.5 million Uighurs and other Muslims are or have been held in camps in China’s Xinjiang region without charge or trial, a leading researcher believes. Virtually no Uighur family is untouched, he says.

China has moved from denying the camps to describing them as vocational training centres, comparable to boarding schools. In the run-up to last week’s meeting of the UN human rights council in Geneva, it invited diplomats from selected countries on tours and choreographed visits for a few journalists, who were greeted with people singing If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands. According to Beijing, these are students receiving free accommodation, skills training, and lessons in Chinese language and law.

This doesn’t explain the barbed wire, the purchases of stun guns or the accounts of political indoctrination, punishment for speaking anything but Mandarin, harsh conditions, and abuses amounting in some cases to torture. People have reportedly been detained for having verses from the Qur’an on their phone or family members abroad. There are suggestions that more inmates are now leaving the camps, but perhaps for house arrest or forced labour. Meanwhile, all-encompassing surveillance and intense repression envelop the region.