CHINESE state media has defended a crackdown on the country’s Uighur Muslim population, claiming their detention is to ensure peace and stop the Xinjiang region from becoming “China’s Syria” or “China’s Libya.”
The Global Times editorial was in response to statements from the United Nations saying they had credible evidence that more than one million Uighur Muslims are estimated to be in detention in “counter-extremism centres.”
Gay McDougall, a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, said authorities have turned Xinjiang region into “something that resembles a massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy – a sort of ‘no rights zone’.”
But state media defended China’s strict regulation as merely “a phase that Xinjiang has to go through in rebuilding peace and prosperity.”
The piece accused western critics of “smearing” the Chinese authorities and deliberately finding fault “in order to sabotage local governance.”
The writer blamed the Uighur’s violent attacks for their treatment, accusing them of being brainwashed by terrorist organisations and carrying out attacks across the country.
“Through the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China, the national strength of the country and the contribution of local officials, Xinjiang has been salvaged from the verge of massive turmoil,” the newspaper said. “It has avoided the fate of becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or ‘China’s Libya.'”
The region, and in particular the Uighur, have been under tight government surveillance for years. The restrictions were ramped up after a violent anti-government riot broke out in 2009.
Since last spring, Chinese authorities have forced many Muslim Chinese – and even foreign citizens – into mass internment camps. This detention campaign swept across Xinjiang, a territory half the area of India, leading to what a US commission on China earlier this year called “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”
A report from AP (via SCMP) found the internment programme aims to rewire the political thinking of detainees, erase their Islamic beliefs and reshape their very identities. The camps have expanded rapidly over the past year, with almost no judicial process or legal paperwork.
Detainees who most vigorously criticise the people and things they love are rewarded, and those who refuse to do so are punished with solitary confinement, beatings and food deprivation.
While defending the authorities’ approach, the Global Times editorial doesn’t directly reference the detention centres.
During Friday’s press conference, McDougall also cited reports suggesting that Chinese authorities are persecuting people for using Muslim greetings, possessing halal food, or for having long beards or headscarves.
She also pointed to reports of mass surveillance and the broad collection of DNA samples and iris scans in Xinjiang.