Amid increasing scrutiny from the United States and the world on China's “re-education” of Uighur minorities in the Xinjiang region, the country continues to deny allegations of extrajudicial detention camps, torture, slave labor and forced birth control.
On January 28, the Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party's daily newspaper, ran an article with remarks from former Uighur “trainees” who dismissed rumors of being tortured or "forced to pick up cotton” while in government centers.
Two of the former detainees quoted in the piece talked about their experiences. The first said that after being influenced by religious extremism, he went to the center at the request of his family – and that without it, he might have fallen into crime. He also denied reports of slave labor:
"We have never heard of people being forced to pick up cotton when they were in or after graduating from the training centers. With such advanced technology, manually picking cotton is not necessary. I don't know how this was fabricated."
The second “trainee” is quoted as saying:
"Some overseas media smeared and attacked Xinjiang with very ugly and extremely irresponsible words. Look at me, I'm so open-minded and happy now. Do I look like I have been abused? If my liver and kidney were removed, would I have the strength to build such a happy family? Can I still be like this cheerily communicating with you guys? Do not tell lies any more, please!"
Although it is not possible to disprove their personal accounts, there is extensive and compelling evidence Uighurs have been maltreated – so much that Polygraph.info determined the article to be misleading.
China has consistently denied abusing Uighurs and frames the camps and other policies as an effort to assimilate them and prevent terrorism.
Some of the most compelling evidence to the contrary comes from Adrian Zenz, one of the world’s foremost scholars on the People’s Republic of China, who has written extensively about the Uighur’s situation. Zenz has provided detailed accounts of forced labor, sterilization and torture.
Leaked internal Chinese government documents, known as the “Karakax List,” showed the extent to which the Chinese Communist Party was targeting Uighurs. The Associated Press reported that of 484 people detained in camps in Xinjiang’s Karakax county, 149 were for exceeding official birth quotas, “the most common reason for holding them.”
In December 2020, a report prepared by Zenz analyzed government documents and state media reports and concluded that “hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority laborers in Xinjiang are being forced to pick cotton by hand through a coercive state-mandated labor transfer and ‘poverty alleviation’ scheme.” The scheme is supposed to be part of the government’s efforts to eradicate poverty, but, as the report shows, evidence points to targeting and coercion of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities:
"Since recruitment is the most crucial aspect of labor transfer, the state combines its sophisticated and fine-grained security apparatus with a set of intrusive social control mechanisms in order to maximize the labor transfer mobilization not only of Uyghurs and Kazakhs in Xinjiang, but also of Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region. These mechanisms are a key reason why labor transfer employment constitutes coercive labor."
These labor programs “are frequently written about in [Chinese] state media as glowing examples of the government assisting millions of poor people into work, but those articles also contain clues to their coercive nature,” the Guardian reported. Publications often include references to “changing thoughts and behavior” and “policies discouraging illegal religious activities,” according to the newspaper.
Polygraph.info has previously reported on Uighur issues, including China’s denial of committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and the forced sterilization of Uighur women in detention centers. Multiple news organizations interviewed Uighur women who’d been detained for re-education and said they were forced to have abortions or had contraceptive devices forcibly implanted.
In September 2020, a Polygraph.info fact check about Chinese officials' denial of the existence of detention centers noted that the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s “Xinjiang Data Project” had identified 380 sites across the Xinjiang region, with about half being categorized by the institute as higher-security tiers.
As Polygraph.info wrote in July 2020, The New York Times’ “Xinjiang Papers” and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ “China Cables” exposed government documents that revealed internal procedures for “dealing” with the Uighurs – for example, by telling detainees’ family members that their relatives had been “poisoned” with “unhealthy” Islamic extremism and would be “cured” in these camps.
China has admitted to the mass detention of Uighurs but repeatedly insisted that the camps are “job-training centers” that have “nothing to do with human rights [or] religion.”