Up to one million Chinese Muslims are currently being held in “reeducation” camps in the western province of Xinjiang, reports the Associated Press.
The communist country has yet to publicly admit to the modern-day gulags but reports show they have been rapidly popping up since spring of last year, with essentially zero oversight from the global community.
The scale of those being imprisoned is not yet known. The AP reports a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology, Adrian Zenz, estimates the number between several hundreds of thousands and just over 1 million Chinese Muslims being held in camps, with government bids for new constructions ongoing.
The reeducation camps reportedly use both psychological and physical torture on a large scale. Inmates are sometimes forced to eat pork and drink alcohol — considered “haram” or forbidden in Islamic culture. Starvation, solitary confinement, and being bound to iron chairs are just a few punishments utilized as ideological weapons. Beatings aren’t as common as other methods, but they are still reported to occur.
Individuals are also made to announce the flaws in their religion in the presence of peers, as well as criticize themselves and others in a forced group setting.
In 2017 China was labeled by Reporters Without Borders as “still [the] world’s biggest prison for journalists and citizen-journalists.” An on-air news reporter forTurkey-based Xinjiang TV, known as Eldost, had been recruited to teach the history and culture of China in a particular camp and spoke of his experience.
“The re-education system,” Eldost said, “classified internees into three levels of security and duration of sentences.”
In the first group are typically minority farmers whose crime was not speaking Chinese. The second group are individuals who were caught with religious material either on personal devices or in their homes. The third group are generally those who studied theology overseas, or decided to be “affiliated with foreign elements.”
In cases where a kangaroo court labeled an individual as part of the third group, Eldost said sentences commonly range from 10 to 15 years of imprisonment.
One former detainee, Muslim Kazakh citizen Omir Bekali, described his treatment prior to being sent to a camp which included being deprived of food for over 24 hours and being strapped to a “tiger chair.”
“For four days, they strung me up like this. My toes just barely brushed the ground…For four days, they didn’t let me sleep.”
After seven months Bekali was moved to a difference facility, a “political education center” where inmates would wake before dawn to sing the Chinese anthem, raise the flag, and study Chinese history and language. He slept in a cell with eight other inmates, sharing beds and a toilet. Before each meal they had to chant, “Thank the Party! Thank the Motherland! Thank President Xi!”
Bekali, who was born in the heavily-Muslim Xinjiang area of China, had immigrated to Kazakhstan in 2006 and returned to visit his family before being detained less than 24 hours after entering the country.
Since his release, he learned his sister and mother had also been detained and sent to the camps.
The AP reports,
Asked to comment on the camps, China’s foreign ministry said it “had not heard” of the situation. Chinese officials in Xinjiang did not respond to requests for comment. However, China’s top prosecutor, Zhang Jun, urged Xinjiang’s authorities this month to extensively expand what the government calls “transformation through education” in an “all-out effort” to fight extremism.
In April, a U.S. commission on China said the camp system represents, “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.” The U.S. State Department has acknowledged the existence of the camps, estimating the imprisoned population to be “at least” in the tens of thousands.
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