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China okays massive re-education camps for Muslim minorities after denying the camps exist

Business Insider Australia logo Business Insider Australia 11/10/2018 Alexandra Ma

a group of people wearing costumes: Regional authorities in Xinjiang, China, appeared to legalise 're-education centres' for its persecuted Uighur minority despite Beijing's previous denials that they existed. Here, Uighur men gather for a holiday meal in Turpan County, Xinjiang, in 2016. Regional authorities in Xinjiang, China, appeared to legalise 're-education centres' for its persecuted Uighur minority despite Beijing's previous denials that they existed. Here, Uighur men gather for a holiday meal in Turpan County, Xinjiang, in 2016. Chinese regional authorities have legally formalized the existence of re-education centres for the country's persecuted Muslim Uighur ethnic minority after Beijing denied that such camps existed.

Officials in Xinjiang, the western Chinese region where 11 million Uighurs live, revised a local law to encourage "re-education institutions" to help those "affected by extremism."

The new law, which was published on Tuesday, stated: "Officials at or above the county level may set up vocational education and training centres, and other re-education institutions and management departments, to carry out the educational transformation of those affected by extremism."

Beijing justifies its surveillance and crackdown on Uighurs as a measure to counter terrorism and religious extremism. It has also repeatedly insisted that people in Xinjiang - known to Uighurs as East Turkestan - lived in harmony and enjoy religious freedom.

China previously denied that such camps existed. Shortly after a United Nations panel said it had received credible reports that 1 million Uighurs were held in internment camps, senior Communist Party official Hu Lianhe claimed that there are "no such things as re-education centres," but that the country had detained people it considers extremists.

Earlier this month Radio Free Asia this week quoted unnamed regional authorities as saying they had to transfer inmates out of Xinjiang to other regions across China because, one said, "we are experiencing an overflow of inmates."

Is this law legitimate?

Rights activists claim that Xinjiang's local government have no right to legalise re-education camps because the process itself is still "arbitrary and abusive."

Maya Wang, the senior researcher on China at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement sent to Business Insider:

"Xinjiang's regional government is not empowered under China's constitution to legalise detention in the political education centres where a million Turkic Muslims are being held.

"Without due process, Xinjiang's political education centres remain arbitrary and abusive, and no tweaks in national or regional rules can change that."

Uighurs who have been inside detention and re-education camps have described witnessing and experiencing physical and psychological torture, including being shackled to a chair and beaten up, deprived of sleep, and forced to sing about President Xi Jinping to get food.

China has also justified its method of "training" religious extremists as "the necessary way to deal with Islamic or religious extremism."

Last month a spokesman for China's state council information office, Li Xiaojun, said that detaining Uighurs in such centres was "not mistreatment," but "to establish professional training centres, educational centres."

"If you do not say it's the best way, maybe it's the necessary way to deal with Islamic or religious extremism," Li said, according to Reuters. "Because the West has failed in doing so, in dealing with religious Islamic extremism."

"Look at Belgium, look at Paris, look at some other European countries," he added, referring to terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris carried out by Islamic extremists in 2015 and 2016. "You have failed."

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