China to Re-brand Internment Camps as ’Vocational Education and Training’ Centers


(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF POLYGRAPH.NET)

 

China Seeks to Re-brand Internment Camps as ’Vocational Education and Training’ Centers


China-Armed police keep watch in a street in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
China-Armed police keep watch in a street in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
Shohrat Zakir

Shohrat Zakir

Chairman of the Government of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region

“Xinjiang has launched a vocational education and training program according to the law. Its purpose is to get rid of the environment and soil that breeds terrorism and religious extremism and stop violent terrorist activities from happening … In daily life, vocational institutions and schools strictly implement the spirit of laws and regulations, including the Constitution and religious affairs regulations, and respect and protect the customs and habits of various ethnic groups and their beliefs in diet and daily life.”

UNCLEAR

Efforts to spin internment camps into vocational schools fall flat without unfettered access.

Beijing has gone on the PR offensive, following condemnation in response to growing evidence that China has detained one million ethnic Muslims and put as many as two million into re-education and indoctrination training camps in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang.

This is a lengthy fact check, because the Xinjiang chairman’s claims are voluminous and, ultimately, unverifiable.

“It is safe to say that the Chinese government is starting to feel the international pressure groups generated by the human rights community and foreign governments around the world,” Francisco Bencosme, Asia Pacific Advocacy Manager at Amnesty International USA, told Polygraph.info.

Having previously denied such camps even existed, a high-ranking regional official has now rebranded the facilities as “people oriented” vocational institutes and schools.

Screenshot from a CCTV report on "vocational training facility" in Xinjiang.
Screenshot from a CCTV report on “vocational training facility” in Xinjiang.

Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the Government of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, told state-run Xinhua News Agency that the “three evil forces” of terrorism, extremism, and separatism were the driving forces for launching the “vocational education and training program.” He added that the country has spared no efforts in protecting the basic human rights of citizens from the harm of terrorism and extremism.

Zakir said the vocational education and training program is in accordance with the constitution, the law on regional ethnic autonomy (which entitles citizens to the right of freedom of religious belief) and the “legislation law,” a set of official rules governing the adoption of Chinese national laws.

Zakir said vocational training had “enhanced” the sense of community of the Chinese nation, helped “trainees” master the country’s common language, increased their knowledge of the rule of law, and helped trainees realize they “are firstly citizens of the nation.”

He also claimed that training had led to “notable changes” in the social environment.

Screenshot from a CCTV report on "vocational training facility" in Xinjiang.
Screenshot from a CCTV report on “vocational training facility” in Xinjiang.

Zakir said the faculties of the “institutions and schools” had done their best to “meet the trainees’ needs in study, life, and entertainment on the basis of free education.”

“Faculties of the institutions and schools also try their best to ensure and meet the trainees’ needs in study, life, and entertainment on the basis of free education. The cafeteria prepares nutritious free diets, and the dormitories are fully equipped with radio, TV, air conditioning, bathroom and shower. Indoor and outdoor sports venues for basketball, volleyball and table tennis have been built, along with reading rooms, computer labs, film screening rooms, as well as performance venues such as small auditoriums and open-air stages,” Zakir said.

“Various activities such as contests on speech, writing, dancing, singing and sports are organized. Many trainees have said that they were previously affected by extremist thought and had never participated in such kinds of art and sports activities, and now they have realized that life can be so colorful.”

Screenshot from a CCTV report on "vocational training facility" in Xinjiang.
Screenshot from a CCTV report on “vocational training facility” in Xinjiang.

Mental health care, access to garment making and ethnic cuisine catering courses, and a paid basic income are all purportedly on offer.

“I didn’t understand the country’s common language, nor did I know about the laws,” Zakir cites one trainee as allegedly saying. “I wouldn’t even have known that I had made mistakes. But the government didn’t give me up. It has actively saved and assisted me, giving me free food, accommodation and education. Now I have made great progress in many aspects. I will cherish this opportunity and become a person useful to the country and society.”

His comments followed a statement by outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who described the reeducation camps in Xinjiang as “straight out of George Orwell.”

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Dake Kang 姜大翼@dakekang

Seeing this video again, it appears there are at least five cameras monitoring this classroom of a so-called “vocational skills training center”, as seen on @CCTV.http://tv.cctv.com/2018/10/16/VIDEVvr9aq34SsDMrB6IRGnh181016.shtml 

“At least a million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities have been imprisoned in so-called ‘re-education camps’ in western China,” Fox News cited her as saying at the Chiefs of Defense Conference Dinner in Washington on Tuesday, October 16. She added that detainees are “tortured … forced to renounce their religion and to pledge allegiance to the Communist Party.”

Haley’s comments echoed similar sentiments expressed by a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Gay McDougall, who said Beijing had “turned the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp.”

Gay and other rights experts expressed alarm over “credible reports” that China had interned one million people in counter-extremism centers and forced another two million into “re-education camps for political and cultural indoctrination.”

Shelley Zhang@shelzhang

The subtext here being, we’re not stomping on their culture! We’re helping them learn their own culture! As if culture is contained only in rugs or bread, and not in the language and spiritual traditions of a people.

View image on Twitter

Shelley Zhang@shelzhang

Look at all this bread! Would cultural genocide really have all this bread?! pic.twitter.com/pQcjKVNuj3

View image on Twitter

Yu Jianhua, China’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Geneva, denied that such “reeducation centers” exist and that arbitrary detention is practiced. He said “the argument that a million Uighurs are detained in re-education centers is completely untrue.”​

Then, last week, the South China Morning reported that the regional government in Xinjiang had “legalized” the use of vocational and training centers to combat extremism.

“Governments at the county level and above can set up education and transformation organizations and supervising departments such as vocational training centers, to educate and transform people who have been influenced by extremism,” the newspaper cited a new clause in the “Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Regulation on Anti-Extremism” as saying.

But the legality of what has been described as a “retrospective justification” for the camps has been called into question.

Shelley Zhang@shelzhang

“The Party and the government saved me. They gave me the chance to mend my ways and turn over a new leaf.” Yeah, so far pretty much all of the interviews with students are sounding like forced confessions.

View image on Twitter

Shelley Zhang@shelzhang

Now CCTV talks about how poor and hard life is in Hotan, and how people don’t really understand the laws or written Mandarin, which makes the area susceptible to extremism. This is the set up for the narrative about the CCP lifting people out of poverty. pic.twitter.com/NcPXOvsZgk

View image on Twitter

“I don’t think the authorities ‘legalized’ these camps — the regional authorities have no legal authority to authorize detention systems, only the national legislature has that authority, and the latter has not legalized these facilities. These camps remain illegal under Chinese law,” Maya Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Polygraph.info.

Government Control of the Press in Xinjiang

Following Beijing’s most recent volte-face, it remains difficult to separate fact from fiction due to the opaque media environment. As Wang noted, all Chinese journalists know to “steer clear” from XinJiang, while foreign journalists “are heavily surveilled if they set foot in the region, making reporting very difficult.”

Visits by Western journalists to Xinjian are rare, making it difficult or impossible to independently verify the government’s rosy picture or the claims of human rights groups and Western governments. Reporters for the Wall Street Journal traveled to the province 10 months ago, finding one detention facility “surrounded by imposing walls topped with razor wire, with watchtowers at two corners… Villagers describe it as a detention center.”

China-FILE PHOTO: A Uighur man looks on as a truck carrying paramilitary policemen travel along a street during an anti-terrorism oath-taking rally in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China May 23, 2014. The Chinese characters on the banner read
China-FILE PHOTO: A Uighur man looks on as a truck carrying paramilitary policemen travel along a street during an anti-terrorism oath-taking rally in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China May 23, 2014. The Chinese characters on the banner read

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked China 176th out of 180 countries in its most recent annual World Press Freedom index.

Last month, a deputy editor, a head of a subsidiary newspaper, and two directors of the Xinjiang Daily group were arrested for being “two-faced” – a vague term “adopted by the Chinese authorities to accuse those who allegedly secretly oppose government policies,” RSF said.

Kazakhstan - A police officer checks the identity card of a man as security forces keep watch in a street in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
Kazakhstan – A police officer checks the identity card of a man as security forces keep watch in a street in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

Also in September, the Uighur editor-in-chief of a state-run literature magazine reportedly committed suicide “out of fear” of being detained in a political “re-education camp,” sources told Radio Free Asia (RFA).

“Not satisfied with having virtually banned the region’s access to foreign media, President Xi Jinping is obviously trying to gag local media that does not print his propaganda,” Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau, said.

In March, China detained the close relatives of five reporters for RFA’s Uighur service in alleged “retaliation for their coverage of the Xinjiang region,” sparking condemnation from human rights and press freedom groups.

In August, Buzzfeed’s China bureau chief, Megha Rajagopalan, was effectively expelled from China after the country’s foreign ministry declined to issue her a new journalist visa – a move she linked to “reporting on and speaking about state surveillance, repression and incarceration of millions of Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.”

Megha Rajagopalan

@meghara

Some news from me— I’m really excited to be moving to a new role @BuzzFeedNews focusing on technology and human rights. I’ll be reporting from the Middle East and beyond. I’m looking forward to continuing to report on tech companies, authoritarianism, surveillance & other issues.

Megha Rajagopalan

@meghara

It is bittersweet to leave Beijing after spending six wonderful and eye-opening years as a journalist there. In May, China’s Foreign Ministry declined to issue me a new journalist visa. They say this is a process thing, we are not totally clear why.

In December 2015, China’s foreign ministry refused to renew the accreditation of Ursula Gauthier, the Beijing-based correspondent for French news magazine L’Obs, claiming she had” flagrantly championed acts of terrorism and acts of cruelly killing innocents.”

Despite a near media blackout, reports do trickle out.

In August, the Wall Street Journal reported eye-witness accounts that “dozens of people had been crammed into one room, forced to share a single toilet, being fed one meal of cabbage per day and told not to talk to anyone else.”

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, told RFA harsh consequences await those who resist reeducation.

“People have been tortured to death, while others have been beaten to death, or prevented from sleeping, or refused food or water,” Raxit said. “Either that or they do whatever would be most humiliating to that person’s psychological profile. Sometimes they humiliate them physically, and have been known to employ electric batons.”

Murat, another Muslim from Xinjiang, told RFA “political education centers are generally like prisons.” He added: “Electric shocks, beatings, and humiliation all take place in there. It’s very cruel.”

Bencosme noted an interview that Amnesty International had conducted with Kairat Samarkan, who outlined his treatment in a “re-education” camp.

Nicole Sprokel@nicolesprokel

Amnesty director @EduardNazarski protesting with Uighurs and Tibetans against arbitrary detention of one million inhabitants of in reeducation camps during visit Li Keqiang to The Netherlands. @amnestynl

“Kairat said when he was detained at one of these camps he was hooded and made to wear shackles on his arms and legs,” Bencosme said. “They attached an iron bar with his arms spread wide and his body fixed in place so that he had to stand straight, unable to bend. They were forced to sing political songs and study the speeches of the Chinese Communist Party and praise the country. Kairat tried to take his own life while he was detained.”

And despite the alleged right to freedom of religious belief, Human Rights Watch claimed that with “unprecedented levels of control over religious practices, the authorities have effectively outlawed Islam in the region.”

Security and Surveillance in Xinjiang

For the 10-million strong Uighur population, the control reportedly extends far beyond camp walls.

A high-tech system of digital and biometric surveillance, checkpoints at virtually every corner, and the policing of individuals’ clothing and hair “are just some of the ways in which residents of Xinjiang experience restrictions on their individual rights even outside these camps,” Jessica Batke, a senior editor with the ChinaFile online magazine and a former research analyst at the U.S. State Department, told theCongressional Executive Commission on China, an independent U.S. government agency, in July.

China-Armed police keep watch in a street in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
China-Armed police keep watch in a street in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

Ultimately, the fact that there is a relatively small stream of eyewitness accounts aids China in its attempt to deny or obfuscate what is going on inside the camps.

Benscome said the restrictive nature of the camps forces rights groups to rely on interviews of those who have been released, making it difficult for those groups from independently verify many of the accounts of former detainees.

But Chinese authorities’ initial denials, followed by alleged ad hoc legal justifications for what is going on in the detention camps, point towards a concerted effort to shape public perceptions of what is really going in in Xinjiang.

“There is not enough lipstick on a pig that could hide the systematic repression that is going on in [Xinjiang] with up to one million people being arbitrarily detained. The Chinese government cannot continue to hide from the international community the ongoing human rights crisis occurring,” Benscome said.

CHINA -- Uighur security personnel patrol near the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in western China's Xinjiang region, November 4, 2017
CHINA — Uighur security personnel patrol near the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in western China’s Xinjiang region, November 4, 2017

Wang said HRW makes certain to “triangulate” its findings, not relying solely on accounts by eyewitnesses and families, but also examining documentary evidence, such as official documents and official social media posts.

“All of these point to an abusive campaign of mass arbitrary detention and other severe abuses in Xinjiang,” she said. “If the authorities are so confident that their detention camps are, in fact, just idyllic summer camps, then they should allow UN investigators, journalists and human rights organizations unfettered access to the region, including to these facilities, so we can see it for ourselves.”

The lack of verifiable information leads us to the verdict of “unclear.” However all signs point to a much darker conclusion. And with China itself stifling every effort at openness and transparency in Xinjiang’s allegedly life-affirming vocational schools, Polygraph.info finds its latest claims to be dubious at best.

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