The report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and other sources, confirm that the CCP propaganda claim that camps are being closed is a lie.
by Ruth Ingram
Shocking evidence that the Chinese government is pushing ahead with its drive to crush Uyghurs, by continuing to unlawfully detain them and squeeze their cultural and religious identity out of them, has emerged in a groundbreaking report.
Reports in late August that 268 detention facilities had been detected in Xinjiang were shocking enough. But more revelations that in fact a staggering 380 such facilities exist, over 40 per cent more than previously identified, gives the lie to Beijing’s insistence that all internees from its so-called “vocational training” program in the transformation through education camps had “graduated.” There is now irrefutable proof that incarceration is continuing apace, and security has been stepped up.
The Xinjiang Data Project, unveiled by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) last week, provides the most comprehensive set of material yet on Xinjiang’s extra-judicial detention system. Meticulous analysis of both day and night-time satellite imagery shows the location of not only re-education camps, but also detention centres and prisons that have been newly built or significantly expanded since 2017. Information compiled over two years compared nighttime lighting from early 2017, before the camps were constructed, with more recent light maps. The results pointed to the newly built detention facilities, standing out from other large public compounds such as schools by features such as high walls, watchtowers, and barbed-wire fencing. The key findings by authors Nathan Ruser, James Leibold, Kelsey Munro, and Tilla Hoja, show 61 of the sites to have grown since July 2019, including more than a dozen that were still under construction this year.
Eye witnesses cited in the report, and myriad exiled Uyghurs, including those interviewed by Bitter Winter on several occasions, have attested to their loved ones “graduating” from “re-education” to draconian sentences of up to 25 years imprisonment, possibly into the facilities that have expanded to accommodate them, suggests Nathan Ruser, one of the authors of the report.
The second and third prongs of the project cast the spotlight on a raft of cultural destruction within the Uyghur region, which was ramped up under the vice-like grip of Chen Quanguo from 2016. Citing the demolition of 35 per cent of mosques and the damage of a further 30 per cent, the report has uncovered 16,000 mosques, or 65 per cent of the total, damaged or totally destroyed, and a significant proportion of demolished sites turned into squares or simply left as empty lots.
Over 900 mosques and other significant religious sites such as cemeteries, shrines and pilgrimage routes, are mapped, 30 per cent of which have been demolished despite protection orders under Chinese law, with an additional 28 per cent damaged or altered in some way.
The very same CCP Director of Religious Affairs, Zhang Xunmou, who years ago had announced more autonomy to religious groups and a curb on arbitrary state interference in their activities, was forced in a volte face on 27th August 2019 (now as the director of the Religious Research Centre, the CCP United Front Work Department) to announce that the “ultimate goal (under Xi Jinping) of religious work, is to achieve its complete internal and external sinicization.”
Uyghur traditional customs such as eating, sitting, and sleeping on the floor on brightly colored mattresses, have also been trashed by Xi Jinping in his determination to bring all things under the Han banner. According to the ASPI report, the “religious and foreign elements of non-Han cultures are viewed with particular suspicion” by Chinese government officials. Quoting Liang Bin, the local Party Secretary of Khargalik County, the report catalogues a raft of cultural “improvements” foisted on Uyghur homes, such as the introduction of chairs and tables, to bring them “up to date” in their lifestyle choices. “In the past the situation of rural households was relatively poor,” said Liang Bin. They didn’t cultivate good living habits, most houses lacked beds, not to mention any other furniture. Families just slept on the floors or on mats on their supa… These habits are unhygienic, unhealthy and contrary to a modern civilized lifestyle.”
It is no surprise that China has responded with fury to the ASPI report.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, addressing his regular press conference on September 24th, lashed out by denying the existence of the camps entirely. “There was never any ‘detention camp’ in Xinjiang,” he said. He castigated the report as “fact distorting,” and hit out at ASPI itself, saying it is “imbued with ideological prejudice,” and “practically an anti-China ‘vanguard’ whose academic integrity is in serious question.” “We hope and trust that people will all see through and reject the ludicrous findings of such anti-China organizations,” he said.
Uyghur culture expert and scholar Rian Thum, concerned about the destruction unfolding in Xinjiang, said, “You see a real and what seems to be a conscious effort at destroying places that are important to Uyghurs, precisely because they are important to Uyghurs.”
The report’s authors are dismayed that world bodies charged with preserving the world’s cultural and religious heritage, such as UNESCO, and ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), have ignored or turned a blind eye to the cultural desecration underway in the region. They press for an urgent enquiry to determine whether sanctions could be imposed on Beijing, since the scale and scope of the destruction runs counter to the spirit of their organizations.