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Summary of journalist accounts

Too bored to read actual articles? Well I have some good news for you—this is like SparkNotes for when the teacher asks you "is there a cultural genocide occurring right now in Xinjiang?" You can provide a reasonable answer without having actually done the reading! You're welcome! (Last updated Oct. 23 2020)

Work by Gerry Shih for the Associated Press, Dec. 2017 and May 2018
December 2017: "In western China, thought police instill fear"

Evidence based off of "rare interviews with Uighurs who recently left China, a review of government procurement contracts and unreported documents, and a trip through southern Xinjiang"—"more than a dozen Uighurs interviewed", most of whom were interviewed on the condition of anonymity. Chinese authorities referred to the detention programs as vocational training.

  • Descriptions of intense policing and intrusive security presences
    • "In Hotan, police depots with flashing lights and foot patrols are set up every 500 meters. ... Police checkpoints on every other block stop cars to check identification and smartphones for religious content. ... Shoppers entering the Hotan bazaar must pass through metal detectors and place their national identification cards on a reader while having their faces scanned."
  • Details drawn from testimony provide further allegations of intense, pervasive surveillance that endangers Uyghurs within Xinjiang.
    • "When Salih Hudayar, an American Uighur graduate student, last called his 70-something grandfather this summer, the elderly man told him kindly not to call again. He later heard his grandfather had been sent to an indoctrination camp."
    • "A Uighur businessman from Kashgar who fled China said his four brothers and his father were in prison because of his escape and that families tasked with spying on one another in his community had also been punished."
    • "A Uighur student who moved to Washington following the crackdown this summer [in 2017] said that after his move, his wife, a government worker still in Urumqi, messaged to say the police would show up at her home in 20 minutes. She had to say goodbye: after that she would delete him permanently from her contacts list."
  • Citing a document reviewed by AP reporters, but not made public, AP says there is a 100-point grading system by police presences in neighborhoods towards an overall 'risk score' of sorts. "Those of Uighur ethnicity are automatically docked 10 points. Being aged between 15 and 55, praying daily, or having a religious education, all result in 10 point deductions. A neighborhood police official in Urumqi surnamed Tao confirmed that every community committee in the city needed to conduct similar assessments."
  • Explicitly carried out through a consequentialist counterterrorist framework: "A Hotan city propaganda official, Bao Changhui, told the AP: 'If we don’t do this, it will be like several years ago — hundreds will die.'"
May 2018: "China’s mass indoctrination camps evoke Cultural Revolution"

Evidence: interviews of five individuals: four prisoners and one former instructor. The sum of testimony describes a repressive environment that denigrates and denounces Uyghur culture, and causes great distress to detainees, who are not given due process. Violence/torture as a form of punishment is common but not indiscriminate.

  • "Violence was not regularly dispensed, but every internee AP spoke to saw at least one incident of rough treatment or beatings."
  • Based primarily on the account of Omir Bekali, a Kazakh Muslim who was detained beginning in March 2017, first in a prison and then an interment camp. Bekali claims that detainees were forced to "disavow their Islamic beliefs, criticize themselves and their loved ones and give thanks to the ruling Communist Party." When he refused, Bekali claimed he was subject to torture.
    • disavow: There is not substantial evidence that detainees are systematically required to commit apostasy outright as a matter of policy. Detainees are, however, required to renounce any aspects of their beliefs identified as problematic by the Chinese government, which for many Muslims might be seen as equivalent. (As the 2017 Regulations show, what is considered problematic is extremely broad and includes perfectly normal behavior.) Indeed, there is substantial testimony (see for instance this 2018 New York Times piece) that coercive pressure to change religious beliefs are high in the camps.
    • Veracity: AP cited "two Kazakh diplomats [who] confirmed he [Bekali] was held for seven months and then sent to re-education." The diplomats were not named.
    • Bekali claims he was released after a stint in solitary confinement ending on November 24. He says a policeman told him the camp had treated him too harshly. Bekali was given a 14-day visa; he left China on December 4, 2017.
    • Bekali claims bathing was restricted, as it could resemble Islamic ritual ablution (wudu)
    • "Bekali did not want the AP to publish his account for fear that his sister and mother in China would be detained and sent to re-education. But on March 10, back in China, the police took his sister, Adila Bekali. A week later, on March 19, they took his mother, Amina Sadik. And on April 24, his father, Ebrayem."
  • Shih writes: "In a June 2017 paper published by a state-run journal, a researcher from Xinjiang’s Communist Party School reported that most of 588 surveyed participants did not know what they had done wrong when they were sent to re-education. But by the time they were released, nearly all — 98.8 percent— had learned their mistakes, the paper said." (This is true; it comes from 紧紧围绕总目标做好“去极端化”教育转化工作, translation by me forthcoming).
  • AP also claims it interviewed "three other former internees and a former instructor in other centers who corroborated Bekali’s depiction. Most spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their families in China."
    • One unnamed woman from Hotan said she was held in the city in 2016. She claimed prisoners were "forced to apologize for wearing long clothes in Muslim style, praying, teaching the Quran to their children and asking imams to name their children."
    • A former instructor and Xinjiang TV anchor whose name was given as Eldost was forcibly recruited "to teach Chinese history and culture in an indoctrination camp because he spoke excellent Mandarin." AP stated he escaped China through bribery in August 2017.
      • Eldost said there were three groupings/classification levels of detainees:
        • the first, of least threat, "typically consisted of illiterate minority farmers who didn’t commit any ostensible crimes other than not speaking Chinese."
        • the second was "people who were caught at home or on their smartphones with religious content or so-called separatist materials, such as lectures by the Uighur intellectual Ilham Tohti."
        • "The final group was made up of those who had studied religion abroad and came back, or were seen to be affiliated with foreign elements. In the latter cases, internees were often were sentenced to prison terms of 10 to 15 years, Eldost said."
      • Another unnamed former detainee from Hotan said he was held in a small, newly built facility in 2015. "There, a government instructor claimed said [sic] that Uighur women historically did not wear underwear, braided their hair to signal their sexual availability, and had dozens of sexual partners." AP did not state how long he was held.
      • Kayrat Samarkan is a Chinese Kazakh detained in December 2017 and interned at Karamagay. He attempted to commit suicide three months later, but was unsuccessful. Samarkan described multiple forms of torture imposed: "Those who didn’t obey, were late to class or got into fights were put for 12 hours in a loose body-suit that was made of iron and limited their movement ... Those who still disobeyed would be locked in a tiger chair for 24 hours. As one form of punishment, he said, instructors would press an internee’s head in a tub of ice and water."
Work of Megha Rajagopalan for Buzzfeed, Oct. 2017: "This Is What A 21st-Century Police State Really Looks Like"

Rajagopalan went to Kashgar in 2017. "Over the past two months, I interviewed more than two dozen Uighurs, including recent exiles and those who are still in Xinjiang, about what it’s like to live there. The majority declined to be named because they were afraid that police would detain or arrest their families if their names appeared in the press." Additionally, Rajagapolan references research by Adrian Zenz as well as Chinese officials and laws. Includes short quotes from Uyghur Human Rights Project.

  • Documents extensive surveillance measures deployed against Uyghurs to police and prevent religious expression considered undesirable.
    • "In some parts of the region, Uighurs have been made to download an app ... called Jingwang [净网], or 'web cleansing,' [which] works to monitor 'illegal religious' content and 'harmful information,' according to news reports." The news report linked was from Hong Kong Free Press.
    • Rajagapolan remarks: "When I walked into a checkpoint a few miles east of Kashgar, a police officer stood near the entrance to check commuters’ cell phones for banned apps and messages (as a foreigner I was sent to a separate line and not asked for my phone)."
    • "Petrol stations have a similar setup. At a station I visited in Kashgar in September, visitors were stepping out of their cars to have their faces scanned and matched with identity cards before filling up."
    • "Surveillance in Xinjiang may be particularly harsh, but it’s clear the government is expanding the use of the technology in the rest of the country, too."
  • "Public security and propaganda authorities in Xinjiang did not respond to requests for comment. China’s Foreign Ministry said it had no knowledge of surveillance measures put in place by the local government."
  • Case of D., a "young Uighur woman in Turkey"
    • D. could no longer communicate with her grandmother in a small village in Xinjiang. Phone calls with her would result in police visiting her grandmother's home.
    • D.'s relatives were worried of eavesdropping on calls with her, and were not granted their passports to visit her for her wedding in 2018.
  • Case of R. "a Uighur student just out of undergrad"
    • "In March, R. told me, he found out that his mother had disappeared into a political education center. His father was running the farm alone, and no one in the family could reach her. R. felt desperate. Two months later, he finally heard from his mother. In a clipped phone call, she told him how grateful she was to the Chinese Communist Party, and how good she felt about the government. ... Since that call, his parents’ phones have been turned off. He hasn’t heard from them since May."
  • Case of T., a writer from Urumqi who now lives with his wife and daughter in the US
    • T.'s account lines up with the outside scholarly understanding of the deployment of mass internment: "For years, an official representing the neighborhood’s Communist Party committee would visit [T.'s] home every week and ask a set of questions that soon became mundane: Who had come to visit? Was anyone pregnant? Had anyone changed jobs? She would then report the information to the local police department, he said. Then in April, the questions changed. The official began to ask whether the family was Muslim, and how they practiced. T. had never been very religious. But he says he respected Islam because it’s a big part of Uighur culture. The family kept a small collection of religious texts on their bookshelves, as well as four prayer rugs. But the questions made him nervous. He told the official he was not a believer. A month later, the disappearances started. Friends would vanish in the middle of the night, spirited away by police to political education centers. His neighbors began to disappear, he said, one after the other. T. was terrified."
    • "The first people in T.’s apartment building to disappear, he said, were those who had traveled abroad and returned, particularly to Muslim countries, from Malaysia to Egypt. Then, in June, he says the police began to conduct random checks of pedestrians’ mobile phones at street corners, bus stops, and petrol stations, sometimes downloading their contents to handheld devices."
  • Case of Abduweli Ayup, who was imprisoned for 15 months for illegal fundraising "in 2013 after he worked to set up kindergartens and other schools teaching children in the Uighur language."
    • After his release, Ayup continued in Xinjiang. In 2015, checkpoint officers saw an essay he had written about topics ranging from "views on taboo subjects from Uighur culture to dictatorships as a system of government."
    • Thus, "Abduweli was detained immediately, strip searched, and interrogated for hours about his writing by a group of six officers, he said. One of the officers told him if he was caught with essays like that on his laptop again, he would be sent back to prison."
    • He decided to flee after the incident in 2015.
    • Abduweli was rendered stateless in December 2017 after the PRC cancelled his passport.
  • Rajagopalan located the Kashgar Professional Skills Education and Training Center; after taking a picture of it, she says "a police officer ran out of the small station by the gate and demanded I delete it." The Center was previously a school.
Expand for another image Rajagopalan took along the Center's walls
The red text reads: "“Cherish ethnic unity as you cherish your own eyes." Below it are listed the 12 Core Socialist Values, and above it "Equality • Unity • Mutual Aid • Harmony"
The red text reads: "“Cherish ethnic unity as you cherish your own eyes." Below it are listed the 12 Core Socialist Values, and above it "Equality • Unity • Mutual Aid • Harmony"