A United Nations anti-discrimination committee has expressed concern about reported detentions of more than one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in ‘re-education camps’, which have “turned the [Xinjiang] Uighur Autonomous Region into something that resembles a massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy - a sort of 'no rights zone’.” The reports cited by the UN committee suggest that Chinese authorities are persecuting people for using Muslim greetings, possessing halal food, or for having long beards or headscarves.Other reports have suggested that China requires Muslims in Xinjiang to fill out a survey form with personal information and biometric data, based on which they are classified into ‘safe’, ‘norma;’, or ‘unsafe’. This classification is the basis for denying Muslims their civil liberties or even assigning many of them to ‘re-education’ camps.
In response to such reports, China has not issued any denial of the specific allegation that Muslims in large numbers are being held in ‘re-education’ camps or stripped of civil rights. Instead China has only responded by saying that Muslims in China enjoy economic progress and rising living standards. Last year, following similar allegations by international rights groups, the Xinjiang region’s deputy foreign publicity director, Ailiti Saliyev, had written a piece in the official Xinjiang Daily, claiming that “The happiest Muslims in the world live in Xinjiang” and blaming all allegations on misinformation by “extremists” in collusion with “Western” forces. Such rhetorical statements are not at all reassuring or convincing.
At a time when countries like the US and Israel and fascists in European countries and India too have been unleashing an Islamophobic offensive in the name of a ‘war on terror’, such reports of severe and arbitrary suspensions of civil liberties of an ethno-religious minority in China, also on the pretext of ‘curbing extremism’ are deeply disturbing. Such a policy - on any pretext - cannot ever be consistent with socialist principles.
A UN team should urgently be allowed access to the Xinjiang region of China to survey the situation, visit ‘re-education’ camps if any, and meet and speak to Muslims to prepare a first-hand report backed by detailed evidence. China will always have the right to rebut such a report - likewise backed by detailed evidence.