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New leak exposes China's Muslim brainwashing

Nik Martin
November 24, 2019

Secret government documents have revealed the scale of reeducation forced on Muslim minorities at Chinese prison camps. A system of total physical and mental control, which Beijing denies, has been exposed.

A reeducation camp in China's Xinjiang region
Image: Getty Images/AFP/G. Baker

Muslim inmates of mass detention camps in China's northwest Xinjiang region undergo systematic brainwashing under the strictest living conditions, secret Chinese government documents published on Sunday have revealed.

The confidential files contradict Beijing's claim that the camps offer voluntary reeducation to hundreds of thousands of Uighur, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities to prevent radicalization.

The data leak was handed to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) by an anonymous source and shared with 17 media partners including Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung, The Associated Press and Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Read more: US restricts China officials' visas over treatment of Xinjiang minorities

Blueprint for mass internment

The documents, mostly from 2017, reveal the blueprint for how, in the wake of bloody race riots and terrorist attacks in Xinjiang a decade ago, China's ruling Communist Party set up a system of high-security internment camps that have since housed more than a million people.

The ICIJ described the papers as an "operations manual" for running the camps and detailed an Orwellian system of mass surveillance and "predictive policing," in Uighur communities and among other minority groups.

The consortium said China had undertaken the largest mass internment of a minority since the Holocaust.

Read more: How Uighurs are using a popular video app to mourn missing relatives

Main revelations of the papers dubbed The China Cables:

  • Camps are forced ideological and behavioral reeducation centers, run in secret to rewire inmates' thinking. Vocational training is only conducted in separate facilities after the prisoners' release.
  • Prison authorities have been ordered to "prevent escapes" by installing guard towers, double-locked doors, alarms, blanket video surveillance and front gate security. 
  • The camps are linked to wider mass surveillance infrastructure across Xinjiang where a centralized data system, utilizing artificial intelligence, identifies targets for questioning and potential detention.
  • Details are provided on how to maintain total secrecy about the camps' existence, methods of forced indoctrination and how to control disease outbreaks.
  • Detainees are scored on their use of Mandarin and their adherence to the camp's strict rules that govern everything from where they eat, carry out chores, study or even go to the toilet.
  • Detainees must remain in the centers for a minimum of a year and can be held for an indefinite period.
  • "Students" are encouraged to truly transform, and the promotion of "repentance and confession" is also called for.

Read more: What does China want to achieve by 'modifying' Islam?

The documents were issued to rank-and-file officials by the powerful Xinjiang Communist Party Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the region's top authority overseeing police, courts and state security.

One document revealed that in June 2017 alone, out of 24,612 "suspicious persons" identified by the data system, 15,683 went for "education and training" 706 to prison and 2,096 were placed under house arrest.

Families exploited

Another document stresses how officials must closely scrutinize the relationships of Uighur inmates, and those interrogated should be pushed to report the names of friends and relatives. Trainers are also told to pay attention to any "ideological problems and emotional changes that arise after family communications.''

The ICIJ said the documents were verified by examining state media reports and public notices from the time. Several experts and former camp employees and detainees also confirmed the contents.

Read more: Hong Kong: China slams US bill backing protesters

China rejects revelations

Beijing, however, immediately denounced Sunday's leak as "fabricated."

"Since the measures have been taken, there's [been] no single terrorist incident in the past three years. Xinjiang is much safer. '' the Chinese Embassy in London said, in a written response.

The statement added that religious freedom and the personal freedom of detainees were "fully respected."

Xinjiang has long been a conflict-plagued region of China. The Uighurs, the region's largest ethnic group, have repeatedly rebelled against Beijing rule — sometimes using force.

In 2009, an uprising in the regional capital, Urumqi, cost around 200 lives. In 2014, Uighur separatists carried out a knife and machete attack at a train station in the southern Chinese city of Kunming that killed 29.

China considers the violence to be in line with Islamist attacks in the West, and says extremists are fomenting unrest between its Uighur minority and the Han majority.

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