As increasing evidence emerges of the arbitrary detention of Muslim minorities on a shocking scale in the north-western region, the new UN rights chief and others are speaking out
It is unthinkable. Yet week by week, the evidence mounts that in north-western China’s Xinjiang region, as many as a million people are being held in extralegal indoctrination camps where inmates are forced to write self-criticisms, sing patriotic songs and chant slogans praising the Communist party. According to former detainees, people appear to have been pulled in because they went abroad, because they engaged in conventional religious practices, or even because they do not speak Chinese. Many are held indefinitely. Some say they were tortured. Most of those held are Uighurs, who make up less than half of the 23 million population of the region, or belong to Kazakh or other Muslim minorities. One report, drawing upon official sources, suggests some areas have detention quotas.
The camps are the most shocking aspect of an intense and all-encompassing crackdown, described by Human Rights Watch this week as amounting to rights violations of a scope and scale not seen in China since the Cultural Revolution unleashed in 1966. According to the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders, official data suggests a fifth of all arrests in China last year were in Xinjiang, which has just 1.5% of its population. The human cost is immense, as a new Guardian report reveals.