In Brief

Why is China cracking down on the Uighur minority?

Drone footage shows police leading hundreds of blindfolded and shackled men from a train

uighurs-china-2.jpg

There is fresh controversy over China’s handling of the Uighur minority after a video emerged showing police leading hundreds of blindfolded and shackled men from a train.

The Guardian says that the drone footage appears to show Uighur or other minorities “wearing blue and yellow uniforms, with cleanly shaven heads, their eyes covered, sitting in rows on the ground and later being led away by police”.

Beijing has faced international condemnation for its extrajudicial detentions of more than one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in internment and political re-education camps.

Who are the Uighurs?

Uighurs are a largely Muslim ethnic minority group based mainly in Xinjiang, an autonomous region. The BBC says that they “regard themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations”.

In the early part of the 20th century, they briefly declared independence, but the region was brought under the complete control of communist China in 1949.

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Why does China see them as a threat?

China claimed in 2014 that Uighur militants were waging a terror campaign for an independent state by planning bombings, sabotage and civic uprising.

Beijing insists that strict security measures are needed to tackle religious extremism and terrorism, pointing to Europe’s problem with Islamic terror attacks in recent years.

Last year, Li Xiaojun, publicity director at the Bureau of Human Rights Affairs of the State Council Information Office, claimed China was “trying to avoid the problems of radicalisation Europe had experienced”.

Arguing that its measures are a model for other countries to follow, he added: “Look at Belgium, look at Paris, look at some other European countries. You have failed.”

State media says that China’s harsh measures have prevented Xinjiang from turning into “China's Syria” or “China's Libya”.

What happens in the camps?

After long denying the existence of any internment camps, in October 2018 China was forced to admit to their existence when government documents, satellite imagery and testimonies from escaped detainees came to light.

Beijing described them as “vocational education centres” and said that detainees learn subjects including Mandarin and Chinese law.

However, human rights groups say that testimony from former inmates indicates that prisoners are subjected to political indoctrination and abuse. One former detainee told AFP he was forced to sing the Chinese national anthem and to eat pork, which is prohibited in Islam.

In July, China claimed that most of the people sent to the mass detention centres have “returned to society”, but relatives of those detained strongly dispute this claim.

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