UN and rights group findings show systematic repression of Muslims from the Xinjiang Uighur region


Mass detention and pervasive controls in Uighur region 

Concerns about systematic repression of ethnic Uighur Muslims from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have been raised by both a UN body and an international human rights watchdog over the last month.

Between 10th and 13th August 2018 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s reviewed China’s record on Geneva.

The Committee highlighted serious human rights violations against ethnic minorities in China including the arbitrary, prolonged and incommunicado mass detention of Uighurs under the pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism, with estimates of the numbers of detained ranging from “tens of thousands to upwards of a million” . Further, they raised concerns about the broad and unclear definition of terrorism, extremism and separatism in Chinese legislation, which has the “potential to criminalize peaceful civic and religious expression” targeting ethnic minority groups, in particular Muslim Uighurs.

At the start of the review, Gay McDougall, the vice chairperson of the committee said:

“Committee members were deeply concerned about reported detentions of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, which have turned the Uighur Autonomous Region into something that resembles a massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy - a sort of no rights zone. Another two million have been forced into so-called re-education camps for political and cultural indoctrination.”

A Chinese delegation at the review session made no comment.

On 6th September 2018, a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) entitled ‘Eradicating Ideological Viruses’: China’s Campaign of Repression Against Xinjiang’s Muslims, presented new evidence of the Chinese government’s mass arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment, and the increasingly pervasive controls on daily life. According to HRW, the population of 13 million are being subjected to forced political indoctrination, collective punishment, restrictions on movement and communications, heightened religious restrictions, and mass surveillance in violation of international human rights law.

The report found that although the Chinese government’s “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Extremism” began in Xinjiang in 2014, the level of repression increased dramatically after Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo relocated from the Tibet Autonomous Region to assume leadership of Xinjiang in late 2016.

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch said:

“The Chinese government is committing human rights abuses in Xinjiang on a scale unseen in the country in decades…the campaign of repression in Xinjiang is key test of whether the United Nations and concerned governments will sanction an increasingly powerful China to end this abuse.”

According to the report, credible estimates indicate that 1 million people in Xinjiang are being held in political education camps, which have no basis under Chinese law. Outside these detention facilities, they are subjected to combination of administrative measures, checkpoints, and passport controls arbitrarily restrict their movements.

HRW also found that authorities have also subjected people in Xinjiang to pervasive and continuous surveillance. The authorities encourage neighbors to spy on each other. The authorities employ high-tech mass surveillance systems that make use of QR codes, biometrics, artificial intelligence, phone spyware, and big data. The government has also deployed over a million officials and police officers to monitor people, including through intrusive programs in which the monitors are assigned to regularly stay in people’s homes.

On 12th September, the US State Department said the Trump administration was concerned about the abuses in Xinjiang and was considering sanctions against senior Chinese officials and companies linked to allegations of human rights abuses. The sanctions could be imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act allows the US government to freeze the US assets of human rights violators, bar them from traveling to the US, and prohibit US citizens from doing business with them.

Authorities using anti-mafia campaign to target dissidents in Tibet 

A report by Human Rights Watch released at the end of July 2018 shows how the Chinese authorities are using an ostensible anti-mafia campaign to target suspected political dissidents and suppress civil society initiatives in Tibetan areas.

The report entitled, ‘Illegal Organisations’: China’s Crackdown on Tibetan Social Groups, details efforts by the Chinese Communist Party at the local level to eliminate the remaining influence of lamas and traditional leaders within Tibetan communities

According to HRW, in February 2018, the Tibet Autonomous Region Public Security Bureau published a list of newly defined forms of “organised crime”. The now-banned activities include any initiatives for the promotion of local language and culture, and protection of the local environment. The list deems those activities to be expressions of support for the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and therefore subversive.

Similarly, traditional forms of social organisation, such as the mediation of community and family disputes and community welfare funds, are characterised as organised crime.

China has occupied Tibet since 1950 and claims the region has been part of its territory for centuries, although many Tibetans, who are linguistically and ethnically distinct from Chinese, say they were in effect independent. Ethnic Tibetans in China face discrimination and restrictions on their rights to freedom of religious belief, expression, association. Peaceful calls for greater autonomy in the Tibet Autonomous Region and Tibetan-populated areas have been met with harsh repression carried out under ‘anti-separatism’ campaigns.

New Liuzhi custodial system could see mass enforced disappearances 

On 5th August, the RSDL Monitor site published a report on a new detention system in China known as Liuzhi that came into effect in March 2018.  The system which has been set up under the National Supervision Law allows detention for anyone suspected of a serious violation or crime "in abusing public office".  The report raises serious concerns that the new system could see the utilisation of enforced disappearance on a scale never before seen

This system is based on its predecessors the Shuanggui system and the Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) system. Shuanggui is a detention system run by the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) that can be imposed on any of its 88 million party members. Human rights groups have detailed the use of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearance, and called for its abolition.

As for RSDL, in 2012, China passed revisions to its Criminal Procedure Law which allows “residential surveillance in a designated location” (RSDL) — in other words in secret and outside the protection of the law — for those suspected of “crimes of endangering state security, terrorist activities, or especially serious bribery cases.” According to civil society groups, human rights defenders, ethnic minorities and predominantly Uighurs are common targets of RSDL. it is a legalised form of enforced disappearance, marked by physical and psychological torture.

According to the report by the RDSL Monitor, this new Liuzhi system will massively enlarge the target group of potential victims, well beyond the Communist party member-only system under Shuanggui and the limited number of crimes permitting RSDL.  Non-party members could now be detained as well.  It allows suspects to be held for up to six months with no provision for legal counsel. Under Liuzhi suspects’ family members must be notified within 24 hours of their detention — except when they may “impede the investigation.”

Maya Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW) said:

“The system has a veneer of legal legitimacy without any meaningful improvements to guarantee due process. Liuzhi provides no fair trial protections, not even the basic ones that exist under China’s criminal procedures.”
Pro-independence party banned

In July 2018, The Hong Kong authorities notified the Hong Kong National Party, a local organisation advocating for Hong Kong independence, of its plan to ban it. Among the reasons for the proposed ban are speeches made and rallies attended by the party’s leader, Andy Chan Ho-tin, in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The proposed ban is based on the Societies Ordinance, which stipulates that the government can prohibit the operation of any organisation “for the interests of national security or public safety, public order or the protection of the rights and freedom of others”, or if the organisation is a political body that has a connection with a foreign political organisation or a political organisation of Taiwan. Any operations, member recruitment and fundraising activities of a banned organisation could result in up to three years’ imprisonment. The Societies Ordinance has been criticised by human rights groups for the potential impact on freedom of expression and association.

Responding to the proposed ban, Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International said:

“The authorities must stop using vague laws to intimidate people who hold different political views. The attempt to ban the Hong Kong National Party raises alarm bells as to what the government will look to curtail next in the name of national security.”
Detention of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists on mainland 

On 27th August 2018, pro-democracy group Demosisto said that two of its members were detained and questioned in mainland China in March and August 2018, before being released. Demosisto Chair Ivan Lam said that the two members – whose names were withheld for safety reasons – were not high-profile members and had never before been arrested. Both have returned to Hong Kong.

  • A member was visiting relatives in the mainland on 26th March but was taken away from the platform of Shenzhen’s high-speed rail station by around ten officers. The member was questioned over why and when they joined Demosisto, what their role was, and was asked to write down the names of other members and paid staff. Officers asked the Demosisto member to verify and sign a set of meeting notes before taking their fingerprints. The member was also asked to sign a letter promising not to reveal the incident.
  • Another Demosisto member was detained alongside three other people on 17th August. Officers took them from the platform of the Guangzhou rail station to the Guangzhou Liuhua Hotel and placed them in separate rooms. The Demosisto member was told that someone had complained that they were trying to stir up trouble in the mainland. The member was attached to a machine which resembled a lie detector and questioned about their involvement with various activities and protests.

Demosisto group leader Nathan Law said:

It’s definitely a scare tactic...they want to send a message to Demosistō and also the civil society in Hong Kong that you guys are not welcome in mainland China and if you come to mainland China, you may be imposed by the same threats.”
Workers and student supporters detained in Shenzhen

On 27th July 2018, 30 individuals including workers from the Jasic Technology factory, workers from other factories and a student – were placed under criminal detention on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” by Yanziling Police Station in Pingshan district in Shenzhen. The workers were accused by the management of trying to form an illegal trade union.

According to Amnesty International some workers’ representatives were dismissed from their jobs and several of them were beaten up by unidentified people after they tried to return to work at the factory. Others were briefly detained and questioned by the police after they demonstrated outside the police station to support the detained individuals.

On 24th August, more than 50 student activists and workers went missing after police raided an apartment where they had been mobilising support for the Jasic factory workers demanding union rights. Activists said they were not able to contact or locate those who had been detained. Video footage of the raid showed police in riot gear storming an apartment and scuffling with occupants.

As of 9th September, Radio Free Asia reported that at least 15 of those arrested are still in detention. Peking University graduate remains incommunicado after being detained on 24th August with other student activists. Shang Kai, editor of the leftist website Red Reference, is currently under criminal detention in Zengcheng Detention Center in Guangdong's provincial capital Guangzhou alongside Maoist youth campaigner Yang Shaoqiang, while fellow Maoist activist Gu Jiarui is being held under "residential surveillance" in the same district. Migrant workers' rights campaigner Fu Changguo and former Jasic employees Hu Pingping and Wu Haiyu have been in the Shenzhen No. 2 Detention Center since 24th August.

Peaceful assembly

Thousands gather to protest mosque demolition

On 10th August 2018, thousands of protesters from China’s Hui Muslim community gathered at the site of a mosque in Weizhou, in northwestern China to block plans by the authorities to demolish the place of worship. The Grand Mosque in Weizhou was completed in 2017 but authorities say it lacks the proper permits and must be torn down. However, protesters point out that the government did not raise concerns about the permits during the actual construction process.

The Grand Mosque in Weizhou was completed last year but authorities said it lacked the proper permits and had to be torn down. But worshipers opposed it pointing out that the government did not raise concerns about the permits during the actual construction process. According to reports, protesters at the mosque brought stoves, water and food with them.

After three days protest by thousands, the authorities backed down and decided to hold off on the demolition. On 30th August, Bai Shangcheng, director general of the regional Communist Party committee’s United Front Work Department, which oversees religious groups, blamed the local government for the incident. Local officials were ordered to review the incident and “handle it properly and according to law.” He, however did not provide clear details on the fate of the mosque.


Anti-censorship activist facing subversion charge

Anti-censorship advocate and journalist Zhen Jianghua has now spent a year in detention. Zhen, is the executive director of the website “Human Rights Campaign in China,” which publishes information related to human rights issues within the country. Zhen also operates “Across the Great Firewall,” a website that provides information on how to access an uncensored internet.

Zhen Jianghua was detained on 1st September 2017, on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power”, a charge for which he risks 15 years in prison. In a month, he was placed under "residential surveillance in a designated location (RSDL).” He was not formally arrested until March 2018. Zhen has been denied access to the defense attorney his family hired for him. Zhen was tried on by the Zhuhai City Intermediate People’s Court on 10 August, according to a post by China’s state prosecutor that has since been removed. The court is expected to hand down a decision by December 2018 but it could apply for extensions the court.

Political commentator detained for exposing corruption

Former journalist and independent blogger Chen Jieren was detained in early July 2018 on suspicion of “extortion” and “running an illegal business.” Chen’s detention came after he wrote two articles alleging fraud and corruption by two Hunan officials.

On 2nd July, Chen wrote an article questioning the authenticity of a regional party member's resume. A week prior, Chen published an article criticising Hunan Province's Shaoyang city party secretary, Deng Guangyan, and alleged that Deng was involved in a massive corruption cover-up. In the article, Chen wrote that Deng denied the allegation.

In response to the arrest, Steven Butler, Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) Asia program coordinator said:

"Chen Jieren should not be in jail merely for reporting on alleged government misdeeds…exposing public corruption is what journalists do; it's public service, not a crime."
Academic detained at home after live interview 

On 3rd August 2018, a dissident Chinese academic was forced off the air while criticising his government. Sun Wenguang, an 84-year-old retired economics professor, had been attacking China’s expenditure on foreign programs in a live interview with Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin, when police barged into his house and forced him off the airwaves. In July 2018, Sun had written an open letter criticising President Xi Jinping’s decision to spend money on foreign aid, loans and investments. He urged him instead to concentrate on domestic spending.

On 14th August, two VOA journalists visited Sun at his apartment in Jinan, eastern China, and found that he appeared to be trapped in his own home. According to Sun, he and his wife were initially taken out of their residence for 10 days by the authorities and forced to stay at four hotels in rooms with sealed windows. He was then locked in his home by a state security official and his wife was threatened to make an announcement that they were traveling.