China perfects art of re-education: Sends minorities to jail!!!



The Chinese State has released some eight White Papers on Xinjiang. The latest in the series were released in July and August 2019 respectively. The White Papers of the Chinese State are really outreach documents that aim to tell their side of the story. But despite these developments in Xinjiang continue to hog the limelight. Most recently, a New York Times report (31 August 2019) appeared which suggests that China has shifted strategy from keeping Uighurs in re-education camps to throwing them into prison, thus giving a legal sanction to persecution of Xinjiang’s Uighur minority.

Significantly, Xinjiang accounts for less than 2 per cent of China's population, but recorded 21 per cent of arrests in 2017, a sharp increase in its share of arrests in comparison to other Provinces of China from a decade ago. According to the NYT article by Chris Buckley, courts in Xinjiang, where the Uighurs and Kazakhs, make up over half of the population, have sentenced a total of 230,000 people to prison in 2017 and 2018, significantly more than in any other period on record in decades. In 2017 alone, Xinjiang courts sentenced almost 87,000 defendants, 10 times more than in the previous year, to prison terms of five years or longer. Arrests increased eight-fold; prosecutions five-fold.

These official statistics make for interesting reading, because in the last year or so, China has been trying to convince the world that it has reduced the number of persons interned in the re-education camps, initially estimated to be around one million. The second issue that becomes clear is that China’s party system has not relented on its strike hard campaign in Xinjiang and Tibet. What the State has done, and this must have gone on for some years now, is to file flimsy or false cases against Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang and put them into prison. Recall that defendants in China have little recourse to rights and the ability to defend themselves. Once sentenced, prisoners face potential abuses and hard labour in overcrowded, isolated facilities.

One needs to return for a moment to the re-education camps in Xinjiang, whose existence has been known for some time now and widely reported on. China’s in its White Paper titled “Vocational Training and Education in Xinjiang” gives these camps a false sense of legitimacy by arguing that China is following the experiences of de-radicalisation centres in several other countries, in Xinjiang in line with its national anti-terrorism policy.

For China terrorism equals religious extremism in Xinjiang, and provides the excuse to persecute the Uighurs. Using the narrative of rehabilitation and re-education, China states in its White Paper that “It is hard for some people who have been convicted of terrorist or extremist crimes to abandon extremist views, as their minds have been poisoned to the extent of losing reason and the ability to think sensibly about their lives and the law. Without necessary intervention measures it will not be possible for them to cast off the shackles of religious extremism, get back to normal life, and improve their prospects for a better future.”

It is apparent that China provides context to its re-education camps by wanting the world to believe that it is best to push away one million residents of Xinjiang into camps for the sole purpose of re-education and to de-radicalize these persons from extremism. Putting things in perspective requires some more statistical data. According to Chinese data, ethnic minorities account for nearly 60 per cent of Xinjiang’s population, the largest group being ethnic Uighurs, who account for 46 per cent of the population.

The NYT article mentioned above as well as a media release of an organization known as Chinese Human Rights Defenders reports that criminal arrests in Xinjiang accounted for an alarming 21 per cent of all arrests in China in 2017, though the population in the XUAR is only about 1.5 per cent of China’s total. Table 1 below taken from the 2018 press release of CHRD provides graphic illustration of the situation in Xinjiang.

Table 1
Year Criminal Arrests in Xinjiang Year-on-Year Change in XUAR Criminal Arrests in China Xinjiang Arrests as Percentage of China Total
2008-2012 81,443
--- --- ---
2013 13,900 (est*)
--- 879,817
2014 27,164
↑ 95% 879,615
2015 34,568
↑ 27% 873,148
2016 27,404
↓ 20% 828,618
2017 227,882 (est**) ↑ 731% 1,068,802 (est***) 21.32%
2013-2017 330,918
↑ 306% (from 2008-2012) 4,531,000

(Sources: Tianshan Net, Xinjiang People’s Procuratorate Annual Work Reports (2014-2017), Supreme People’s Procuratorate Annual Work Reports (2013-2017)

While the increase in the number of arrests is significant, even more important are the figures for indictments in Xinjiang in 2017. These accounted for approximately 13 per cent of all indictments in China. Between 2013 and 2017, a total of 362,872 persons were indicted, an increase of 237 per cent from the total number of indictments between 2008-2012. Table 2 below illustrates this.

Table 2
Year Criminal Indictments in Xinjiang Year-on-Year Change in XUAR Criminal Indictments in China Xinjiang Indictments as Percentage of China Total
2008-2012 107,555
---- ---- ----
2013 21,850 (est*)
---- 1,324,404
2014 34,816
↑ 59% 1,391,225
2015 49,075
↑ 40% 1,390,933
2016 41,305
↓ 15% 1,402,463
2017 215,833 (est**) ↑ 422% 1,663,975 (est***) 12.97%
2013-2017 362,872
↑ 237% (from 2008-2012) 7,173,000

(Sources: Tianshan Net, Xinjiang People’s Procuratorate Annual Work Reports (2014-2017), Supreme People’s Procuratorate Annual Work Reports (2013-2017)

The challenge is that with an effective state surveillance system and persistent arrests, the minorities in Xinjiang do not have the luxury of being able to have a say in national or international affairs. Their stories have filtered out in bits and pieces through refugees and others who have fled persecution in China to other countries. This is a small narrative that has today become big and provides increasing evidence of the dictatorial manner in which the Chinese state operates on its own people, and in particular the Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. There is a need for the world to wake up to this new form of human rights violation and respond appropriately.