Beijing has published a document claiming that the transformation through education camps in Xinjiang are just beautiful schools. This bunch of lies should fool no one.
by Ruth Ingram
Dilshat witnessed the first batch of “voluntary applicants” for Xinjiang’s so-called “vocational education and training centers”, aka transformation through education camps, from his bedroom window just after midnight, one freezing winter evening in 2016. He was alerted to unusual activity outside by women’s screams coming from the street below. He turned off the lights in his living room and pulled the curtain to one side. Through a crack, he could see the latest “willing recruits” for the government’s new front in the battle against “terrorism and extremism” piling out of a windowless van and being herded into the community police station. The gates were slammed shut behind them.
Already relatives must have been alerted, because soon people started to arrive outside the barred gates with plastic bags bulging full of clothes and perhaps food to sustain their family members wrenched from their beds at this late hour. Others who had already gathered set off in a hurry, only to return an hour or so later with a variety of packages for those detained.
An enduring image, as Eziz recounts the tale from his exile in Europe, is of a room full of abandoned children caught up in all this, staring out of the police station window. “We knew people were being taken away, but I had never actually seen the reality with my own eyes. The sight of those children, alone in a massive room has haunted me ever since,” he said. He managed to leave Xinjiang just before all the passports were seized by the government and escape became impossible.
The release this week of Beijing’s White Paper justifying its “Vocational Education and Training in Xinjiang” is remarkable. Not only does it attempt to vindicate its incarceration of up to three million Uyghurs as a “preventive measure” but it expects the world to believe that its methods are within the law.
The accepted definition of a White Paper is of a policy document produced either by an international organization, or by a government setting out its proposals for future legislation. Beijing’s own take on a White Paper “with Chinese characteristics,” appears to be that of a policy document hurriedly compiled retrospectively, designed to fend off criticism from the outside world, to justify a tranche of not quite legal processes that are already being enacted as if they are law.
Two such “White Papers” have already been produced by Beijing this year in a damage limitation exercise to fend off world criticism concerning its treatment of Uyghurs: “The Fight Against Terrorism and Extremism and Human Rights Protection in Xinjiang,” and “Historical Matters Concerning Xinjiang.”
White Paper or White Lie?
This latest six-part White Paper cites among others, law-based education and training and protection of trainees’ basic rights.
In its propaganda concerning the transformation through education camps, as they are now known, Beijing, which initially denied their existence, makes great play of their voluntary and legal nature. Qian Jinyu, executive dean of the Human Rights Institution of Northwest University of Political Science and Law in Shaanxi Province, speaking to the CCP’s mouthpiece publication, the Global Times, described the “spirit of innovation” of the camps, which operate fully within the bounds of the rule of law.
Xu Jianying, a research fellow at the Institute of China’s Borderlands of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, added that one of the key points shown in the White Paper was the legal basis for organizing the training centers.
But Abliz and his father, dragged from their tenement in downtown Urumqi at 2 am one bitter December night in 2018, might disagree. His mother and two sisters were left standing in their night clothes in front of their taped up front door as Abliz and his father were marched away. “We had nothing, and had no alternative but to walk several kilometers to a friend and beg her to let us stay,” remembered the mother, whose first contact with her husband was a year later after he was given a telephone call for good behavior. But he is still detained and their contact is sporadic.
Legal Experts: “The CCP Is Lying”
Legal experts in the West also disagree.
At a meeting in the UK parliament earlier this year, members said that Beijing was rail-roading its own judicial system by relentlessly and extra-judicially incarcerating its own people. The weakness of China’s legal system in protecting its citizens and the lack of domestic avenues available for legal redress for those wrongly convicted, deeply concerned the group which has concluded that the mass detentions are illegal even under China’s own laws and cannot be justified under any circumstances.
Their other concern was that Chinese lawyers in the PRC (People’s Republic of China) are being systematically prevented from championing the Uyghur cause and there are no avenues for legal redress. Those who dare to stand against the State usually disappear or receive draconian prison terms.
Nicola Macbean, executive director of “The Rights Practice,” a group set up to improve human rights protection and accountable governments, challenged the legality under Chinese law of every aspect of the so-called transformation through education camps. “It is clear,” she said, that China has deliberately chosen to detain large numbers of its own citizens without any legal basis, which she said “speaks volumes about how China treats its own laws.”
Before a panel of international lawyers, politicians and human rights activists, she detailed the wealth of evidence accumulated by researchers and observers to prove the mass incarcerations, and strongly suggested that their justification by Beijing, in the name of “challenging extremism,” was deeply flawed. She quoted the Xinjiang Regional Vice-Governor, Erkin Tuniyaz, who earlier this year before the UN Human Rights Council, declared the “Vocational Education and Training Centers” to be set up in accordance with the law, to “educate and save those who were influenced by religious extremism and committed minor legal offenses.” But she questioned his assertion that the camps are legal and that those incarcerated in them are judicially detained.
She said that the very fact that the vast majority of centers required residence, makes them illegal under Chinese law. “Residential detention such as this is simply not part of the Chinese criminal justice system,” she said. Their compulsory and residential nature, and the requirement to engage in forced labour, were in direct contravention of China’s own legal system, according to Ms Macbean. She cited article 37 of China’s own Constitution, which prohibits unlawful detention or deprivation or restriction of citizen’s freedom of the person. Article 8 of China’s Legislation Law stipulates that only the National People’s Congress, Chinese Legislature or its Standing Committee may enact laws relating to the deprivation of liberty, and Article 9 of the same Law explicitly prohibits the State Council and local authorities from passing administrative regulations with regard to the deprivation of liberty.
Police powers exist for up to 15-days detention for minor offenses, and regulations on de-radicalization, which seek to justify the use of the camps, only authorize the construction of training camps without allowing for the deprivation of liberty.
Lawyers Who Dared to Protest Were Tortured
“Some Chinese scholars themselves admit that the detentions in Xinjiang are unlawful,” Macbean said, but adding that any lawyer who dared to stand up to the injustices, has immediately either disappeared, has been imprisoned, or has been subject to torture and lost his or her livelihood. When in 2014, four Chinese lawyers tried to challenge arbitrary detentions, they were detained and tortured. Following a crackdown in 2015, and subsequent legal restrictions imposed in 2016, no lawyer now would dare to represent those in the re-education camps.
“There are no legal procedures for lawyers to appeal the detentions,” she said, “no official notifications appear to have been given to family members of detainees providing grounds for detention, evidence for the authorization of custody or when they will be released,” adding that the absence of external monitoring for the treatment of detainees or the conditions of detention was alarming. Macbean was concerned by the “worrying numbers of reports of deaths from detention, and accounts of ill treatment and torture.”
Rumors last year that the detention centers were being legalized, she said, were simply not true. Beijing’s counter-terrorism law allows for detention of up to 15 days, but the more serious cases should be judged in a court of law. No one in any of Xinjiang’s detention centers has been tried, punished or sentenced. “They are all unlawful,” she said. “There are never any notifications for the grounds of detention, who has authorized it or the date of release. These are all arbitrary detentions,” Macbean said. “The Chinese authorities are choosing to detain its own citizens with no legal basis. How does China justify this?” she asked.
More Lies of the White Paper
The latest White Paper goes to great lengths to blind its readers with the science of double-speak, and sets itself up as the kindly face of Government policy in Xinjiang “to help the world better understand the policies.” It cites “free of charge vocational training,” “certificates of completion,” lessons in Chinese, and of course “freedom of religious belief” of all detainees.
Citing the widespread availability of “vocational training” throughout Xinjiang, and large numbers who have taken advantage of the opportunity, Beijing triumphantly announced through the White Paper that “public order and security have returned to society,” and “equality, solidarity and harmony among ethnic groups and religions have prevailed.” “People are enjoying peace and stability,” it rejoiced.
Ghuncham Rozi, a British Uyghur, many of whose family in Xinjiang has been rounded up and interned, might disagree with Beijing’s assessment of the situation since the draconian system of surveillance and incarcerations began in earnest three years ago. She has been unable to contact her family for three years due to their terror at having a relative abroad. “They have begged me not to call them,” she said, distraught.
75.9 million tourists might well have visited Xinjiang in the first half of this year, according to Xinjiang’s Chairman Shohret Zakir, who attributed this success to the existence of internment camps, but London-based Eziz Eysa, Uyghur writer in exile and human rights campaigner, talked about the human cost of achieving this so-called “harmony.” He says that he is “bursting with the torment” of being cut off from his family and his homeland, and asks, “how long will it be before something changes and my people are free?”
In the White Paper, Beijing trumpets the large number of countries lending support to its own unique approach to the war on terror, but fails to mention the axe it has over them all in the way of massive financial incentives to keep quiet.
China may well be making one last ditch attempt to say black is white over its cultural genocide in Xinjiang, but few in the free world are convinced. Least of all the Dilshats, who have seen the terrors first hand, the Ablizs and millions like him now illegally incarcerated, or the Ezizs and Ghunchams of this world in exile, who wait in agony for news of their disappeared loved ones.
There is no aspect of the illegal detentions that is within the law… even the Chinese law, and the latest attempt of Beijing to rewrite its last years of Orwellian madness in Xinjiang should fool no one.