For at least the past 3 years, Chinese authorities have been detaining minority Muslims of northwestern China (the Uighurs) to harsh labor camps designed to rid them of their Muslim ideologies. Hiding the camps behind a facade of vocational training centers, they are, in fact. centers controlled by inhumane conditions, the ultimate goal being to remove the ‘evil’ spirits of Islamic beliefs. Chinese authorities finally began to acknowledge the camps’ existence in 2018, but have yet to admit they’re harsh labor centers. Leaked records classified as “secret” by the Chinese government detailed how the camps were meant to be run, including strict security measures.
Suspicions of the existence of these camps emerged a few years ago, but it’s difficult to verify the validity of these claims other than trusting first-hand witnesses and leaked documents. The memo released in 2017, signed by a top national security official in China, states that these ‘vocational training centers’ are meant to be for re-education, but the focus is on “ideological transformation.” Students must be re-educated for a year and meet the ‘standard’ for ideological transformation before they can move to another improvement class for another half a year. The vocational skills component is defined, essentially, as forced labor. Chinese authorities call the leaked documents, “pure fabrication and fake news” and that “vocational education and training centers have been established for the prevention of terrorism.” The essence behind these centers is to depict Islam as an evil belief and that Islam is the equivalent to terrorism.
A few women, once detainees, spoke about their experience to NBC news. Gulbakhar Jalilova and Zumrat Duwat, both mothers of three and two out of the estimated one million snatched into the intricate China’s intricate Muslim re-education centers, recounted being interrogated for hours by police before being sent to dark rooms with cement walls and forced to live in brutal conditions. According to Jalilova, the women were given two minutes per month to shower, and illness and disease were rampant, yet disregarded by the guards. Their dark days were spent reciting Chinese songs or listening to Chinese president Xi Jinping’s speeches. According to Duwat, every morning was met with loud music signaling that water was running from a single spout in the room for a short period of time. Guards would lead them to a classroom where they praised Chinese president Xi and his Communist party and learned Chinese propaganda. Their days were constantly clouded by fear of punishment — Duwat recalled a diabetic detainee who had no access to insulin and thus “was suffering all the time” and “couldn’t sleep.” Out of the warmth of her heart, she gave the elderly woman some bread, only to be beaten by the guards. “The guards told me that I must obey every rule at the center,” she said. “And I cannot speak to anyone. I cannot cry.” According to her, rewards and punishments were dictated by a point system: detainees received points for acts such as arriving in a re-education classroom on time or refraining from sharing food. Dawut was able to communicate with her family as a result of her good behavior but was framing herself as a healthy and happy adult while doing so. “They ordered to smile the whole time. We cannot say anything and we cannot reveal out sadness,” she said. In addition, they were forced to write letters repenting for past behavior, although nearly no one had been guilty of any wrongdoing. In the government’s eyes, being Muslim and reading the Quran was in itself, a crime.
The Chinese government attempted to mask any possible suspicion of the ongoings of the camps. Prior Jalilova’s departure from the camp, the guards relocated her to a hospital to nourish her with better food and clean clothes. She left for home on the third day after police applied make-up to her face. Nevertheless, her 30-pound weight loss from the prison camp was apparent upon her arrival home.
The issue here is that Chinese authorities have an unbalanced judgment when it comes to crimes and punishments. In 2018, a Muslim man was jailed becaise he encouraged coworkers not to use expletives, while much stronger offenses made by non-Muslims resulted in weaker indictments. They believe using a large-scale artificial intelligence system can help predict future incidents. But the few Muslims involved in terrorist incidents are not representative of the entire population, and there are numerous others of different races/cultures that have instigated those incidents.
It is apparent that the sole purpose of these Muslim internment camps is not “re-education.” Re-education does not require prisons or cruel punishments or unsanitary living environment. The Chinese government hold to the belief that these minority Muslims’ minds were irked with terrorist or extremist thoughts, and thus, they find the need to brainwash them with Chinese propaganda, lacking the understanding that innocent Muslims are being punished for simply following Islam. Even supposing there was a stronger correlation betwen Islam and terrorism, this method is outrightly inhumane. A blatant example of religious intolerance, subjecting Muslims to these conditions to rid them of alleged religious extremism is no way to ‘fix’ terrorism in China.