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Update: Religious Persecution in China Verified, Despite State Media Denials

China -- A Chinese paramilatary police patrol passes a Muslim ethnic Uighur woman and a child on a street in Urumqi, capital of China's Xinjiang region on July 3, 2010.
Yu Ning, Global Times

Yu Ning, Global Times


“Legal religious activities are not only allowed in any region of China, but also well protected. However in an attempt to divide China's national unity, many Western forces have repeatedly made an issue of the country's religious freedom, making groundless claims that religious groups are suppressed in China.”

Chinese Muslims face religious persecution

Experts on human rights and on the situation in Northwest China alleged Friday, August 10 that China has detained more than one million ethnic Muslims and put as many as two million into re-education and indoctrination training.

This fact check comes amid ongoing developments that a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called "alarming," at the meeting in Geneva. Gay McDougall is quoted by several news agencies as saying Beijing had "turned the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp."

​The news reports said Chinese officials did not respond, though China's ambassador to the UN earlier told the panel his countries policies toward minorities promote unity and harmony.

Late Sunday, the Global Times, the Chinese state newspaper, said in an editorial the security situation in Xinjiang had "turned around," following what it said were a series of terrorist attacks in the autonomous region and in China's interior.

The tabloid did indicate "police and security posts can be seen everywhere" in the region but did not mention detention facilities, saying that the West is "smearing" the regional government.

We chose to fact check the statement in the same newspaper earlier in August, similar in tone to the Sunday editorial -- the August 1 article representing Beijing's response to months of reports from human rights groups and in the media.

Since the spring of 2017, human rights watchers have been calling attention to China’s increasingly repressive measures against its Uighur Muslim population in the autonomous region of Xinjiang in the Western part of the country. Witnesses tell of everything from everyday discrimination, such as being barred from renting hotel rooms, to disappearances and “re-education centers” that some have likened to concentration camps.

In September 2017, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the government in China “should immediately free people held in ‘unlawful’ political education centers.”The global fact-finding and advocacy organization cited its own interview with relatives of detainees held in facilities near Kashgar City and the Bortala Prefecture.

HRW said the Muslim Uighur minority was targeted and it cited media reports saying ethnic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz has been detained for traveling abroad.

On August 10, the Associated Press reported thousands of Muslims from the Hui minority staged a rare public protest of the planned demolition of the Grand Mosque in the town of Weizhou. The Hui minority is the largest Islamic group in China, descendants of the Han Chinese.

While the Chinese state publication, Global Times, blames “western media” for “a new round of attacks,” the evidence includes many reports from inside China as well as eyewitness testimony – enough to firmly label the claim “false.”

And it should be noted Al Jazeera also filed a report on the allegations made in Geneva.

Last year, a state official in Xinjiang denied allegations of Muslim persecution, stating that “The happiest Muslims in the world live in Xinjiang.” The official blamed claims to the contrary on “hostile Western forces” who “wantonly spread rumors.”

The official did not suggest any metric by which one could measure the happiness of Xinjiang’s Muslims or compare it to those in other countries. The United Nations’ World Happiness 2017 report, however, said the happiest Muslims live in the United Arab Emirates and not Xinjiang or anywhere else in China.

China -- Children join the adults at a mosque for Friday prayers in Urumqi, the capital of farwest China's Muslim Uighur homeland of Xinjiang, May 23, 2014
China -- Children join the adults at a mosque for Friday prayers in Urumqi, the capital of farwest China's Muslim Uighur homeland of Xinjiang, May 23, 2014

Several years in a row, Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have attempted to ban fasting during the Muslim the holy month of Ramadan. In February, the state-run outlet Global Times published an article about Chinese Muslims going on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, considered a requirement for all faithful Muslims who can afford to make the journey. What it does not mention, however, is that the government, which organizes the groups going on the Hajj, furnished pilgrims with special electronic cards equipped with GPS tracking devices.

Numerous reports of arbitrary arrests and violent interrogations of Uighurs contradict the state’s claims about happy Muslims. HRW said state media in Xinjiang have reported on the reeducation facilities, calling them “counter extremism training centers.

China -- Ethnic Kazakhs pray in mosque of a Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang
China -- Ethnic Kazakhs pray in mosque of a Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang

In 2009, ethnic riots in Xinjiang’s capital city of Urumqi led to as many as 200 deaths. In 2017, the government sent thousands of troops to Xinjiang, ostensibly to defend against “terrorism” and separatism. In 2015, after a string of terrorist attacks traced back to Xinjiang, the government declared a “People’s war” on terror. However, human rights advocates call China’s anti-terrorism policy in Xinjiang an attempt to forcibly assimilate and destroy Uighur and Kazakh culture.

In Geneva, the human rights panel expects to continue its meeting Monday and will update, depending on more developments.

(Editor's Note: This fact check was updated with China's response to developments out of Geneva).