Screengrab
World News /20 Mar 2019
03.20.19

Religious Minorities in China Falling Victim to ‘Re-education’ Camps

What’s in a name? Well, quite a lot if you are one of the 1 million-plus Muslim Uyghurs currently languishing in so-called “re-education” camps in China.

The Chinese authorities have, it is claimed, established “transformation through education” centres of different kinds throughout 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions of China, including various newly-built mountain villa resorts, hotels, guesthouses and study classes.

Within these “transformation through education” centres, there are also Christians who are allegedly typically monitored 24 hours a day and forced to watch “educational” films propagandizing atheism and nationalism.

Recently, facing the international community’s constant denunciation and condemnation of Xinjiang’s “transformation through education” camps, the Chinese Communist Party authorities have switched from denying the camps’ existence to claiming that they are “vocational training centres.”

Critics, though, say the camps, whatever the name given to them, remain the same and amount to jails where inmates are subject to “severe indoctrinations.”

Simply renaming the centres, though, is merely a futile attempt to legitimize them, it is argued.

On November 12, 2018, Bitter Winter, which monitors human rights abuses in China and elsewhere, published what it calls exclusive images of one of the “transformation through education camps.”

This, it is claimed, is where one and a half million prisoners of conscience are held in China, one million of them Uyghur Muslims. One Bitter Winter reporter sent images of another camp in Xinjiang, said to have an internal structure identical to that of a prison.

It is not just Uyghur Muslims who are detained but people belonging to countless other religions, including The Church of Almighty God (CAG).

The aim? According to the respected Brussels-based rights campaigner, Willy Fautre, is “forced indoctrination into atheism.”

Case studies of some of those targeted are cited in the annual report of The Church of Almighty God, which is the largest new Chinese Christian religious movement and also, allegedly, the most persecuted.

The CAG, it is claimed, has been persecuted since it was banned in 1995 and more than 300,000 members of the Church have been detained in China.

In the camps, various slogans are written on the walls outside of the classrooms, such as: “Make a habit of studying Mandarin” (intended for Uyghurs who normally do not speak Mandarin but only their own Uyghur language) and “Follow the guidance of Xi Jinping’s thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era, and untiringly strive to achieve the dream of the people of China to bring about a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

Bitter Winter, though, says that their footage proves that, despite being renamed by the CCP, the camps are “indeed jails by any other name, where inmates are subject to severe indoctrinations.”

There are also credible reports that some are tortured and die there, states Bitter Winter, based in Milan.

At the end of 2018, Chinese authorities selected a few camps and invited foreign reporters to visit in an attempt to counter international criticism. Many observers, however, called this a “performance” to make the camps look less cruel than they are.

According to Bitter Winter, it is not only Muslims who are imprisoned at the camps. One Christian tells of her confinement, indoctrination, and continuing threats.

She told Bitter Winter about the details of her life in detention, including military training, sitting in silence, singing “red” songs, and studying propaganda which constituted the entirety of her long “prison” life.

Yang Lan (a pseudonym) is a Christian of The Church of Almighty God. She says she became a target for arrest and “transformation” by the government because she persevered in her faith and as she “did not yield to intimidation by the authorities.”

In 2017, while traveling away from home, Ms. Yang was intercepted by the police and imprisoned in a “transformation through education” camp without any judicial review.

“I was sent to a training school [transformation through education camp] surrounded by high walls and electrified wire, with turrets and lookout towers. There are fully-armed sentinels. It’s like a prison,” said Ms. Yang. “I was monitored by surveillance cameras 24 hours a day. I didn’t have any privacy whatsoever.”

Some reporters themselves have been sent to “legal education centers” to undergo mandatory indoctrination, while others, it is claimed, have been tortured and abused.

One reporter, who had filmed a “transformation through education” camp in Xinjang, was among those arrested. Some of them have been luckily released since, but say they are always under strict surveillance and this paralyzes their work for Bitter Winter.

Bitter Winter says, “Others are instead still detained, and we know nothing of their fate.”

Fautre, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, an NGO, said, “Facing the international community’s constant denunciation and condemnation of so-called ‘transformation through education camps,’ the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities now call them ‘vocational training centers.’ However, pictures and videos emerging from such camps show they are real detention centres. Turning a blind eye to the indoctrination of one million and a half detainees, including one million Muslim Uyghurs, cannot be an option anymore for countries privileging the slogan of business first.”

One way of addressing the issue, it is argued, could be for the EU and its member states to look more kindly on religious asylum-seekers from China “who deserve the status of refugees in the EU.”

Fature says, “All religions and all churches, not just CAG, are now persecuted in China. In the last few years, an increasing number of members of the CAG who are persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party have been knocking on the doors of several EU member states and requesting their protection. Unfortunately, they have massively been denied political asylum. As of 1 January, France Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany recorded the highest percentages of rejection. The main reason is that the state institutions in charge of the requests for asylum are unaware of the magnitude and intensity of the religious persecution in China and are ignorant about the CAG or are misled by the anti-religious propaganda and the fake news spread around the world by the CCP.”

He warns, “Sending these believers back to China would mean handing them over to their persecutors.”

If you're interested in writing for International Policy Digest - please send us an email via submissions@intpolicydigest.org