China must come clean about the fate of an estimated 1 million minority Muslims swept up in a “massive crackdown” in the far western region of Xinjiang, Amnesty International said in a new report yesterday.
Beijing has ramped up restrictions on Muslim minorities to combat what it calls Islamic extremism and separatist elements in the province.
However, critics have said the drive risks fueling resentment toward Beijing and further inflaming separatist sentiment.
In a new report, which included testimony from people held in the camps, Amnesty said Beijing had rolled out “an intensifying government campaign of mass internment, intrusive surveillance, political indoctrination and forced cultural assimilation.”
Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are punished for violating regulations banning beards and burqas, and for the possession of unauthorized Korans, it added.
Up to 1 million people are detained in interment camps, a UN panel on racial discrimination reported last month, with many interned for offenses as minor as making contact with family members outside the country or sharing Islamic holiday greetings on social media.
“Hundreds of thousands of families have been torn apart by this massive crackdown,” Amnesty International’s East Asia director Nicholas Bequelin said in a statement.
“They are desperate to know what has happened to their loved ones and it is time the Chinese authorities give them answers.”
Beijing has denied reports of the camps, but evidence is mounting in the form of government documents and escapee testimony.
It suggests that Chinese authorities are detaining large groups of people in a network of extrajudicial camps for political and cultural indoctrination on a scale unseen since the Maoist era.
Amnesty’s report interviewed several former detainees who said they were put in shackles, tortured, and made to sing political songs and learn about the Chinese Communist Party.
The testimony tallies with similar evidence gathered by foreign reporters and rights groups in the past year.
Amnesty also called on governments around to world to hold Beijing to account for “the nightmare” unfolding in Xinjiang.
Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced “awful abuses” of Uighur Muslims detained in re-education camps.
China’s top leaders have called for religious practices to be brought in line with “traditional” Chinese values and culture, sparking concern among rights groups.
Earlier this month, draft regulations suggested that Beijing was considering restrictions on religious content online, such as images of people praying or chanting.
State supervision of religion has increased in a bid to “block extremism,” and authorities have removed Islamic symbols, such as crescents, from public spaces in areas with significant Muslim populations.
Christians have also been targeted in crackdowns, with a prominent Beijing “underground” church shuttered by authorities earlier this month, while churches in central Henan Province have seen their crosses torn down and followers harassed.
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