Xinjiang Authorities Anticipate International Inspection, Recent Activities Suggest

Sources say an inspection is expected within weeks
By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
January 3, 2019 Updated: January 9, 2019

Xinjiang officials are drastically ramping up efforts to conceal evidence of the scale and true nature of “vocational re-education centers” where at least 1 million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs are believed to be held, ahead of an expected international inspection, according to sources in the region.

A confidentiality agreement for prisoners detained at a facility located in Awat County, Xinjiang, was obtained by The Epoch Times. The agreement, written in the Uyghur Arabic alphabet, says that prisoners must not “reveal the study, life, number of people, and internal workings of the training centers” through social media, SMS messaging, or media interviews, or they will be held accountable “according to the relevant laws and regulations of our country.”

Evidence of the mass-detention facilities, such as barbed wire fencing, is being removed and a source in Xinjiang confirmed with the Chinese-language Epoch Times in September 2018 that local police officers have signed confidentiality agreements to not reveal that they are transporting Uyghurs elsewhere. According to the source, about 1,500 Uyghurs in the area where he resides were being sent to other locations.

Sources told Radio Free Asia (RFA) in October they believed as many as 300,000 Uyghurs have been secretly transferred to prisons in Heilongjiang province and other parts of China from Xinjiang since relocations began at the beginning of 2018.

Local residents are also being intimidated as local officials make efforts to clamp down on ways that information can leak to the outside world about the camps, an anonymous source told RFA. In the hope that they will be silent, residents have been forced to sign confidentiality agreements that threaten imprisonment for negative comments or blacklisting for three generations of the family if complaints are made about life in the region when inspectors arrive, RFA reported in December 2018.

A copy of a CCP notice, obtained by online magazine Bitter Winter, demanded that residents not “spread rumors,” or disclose information through the Internet or various places “that contradicts the policies of the Party and the government.”

It also mentions the detainees will undergo concentrated closed door training for at least one year, mainly to learn the national language, laws and regulations and technical skills.

Xinjiang residents must say “only good things about the government,” and “praise the [Communist] Party’s policies,” a businessman from Ghulja city in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture who is currently trading in neighboring Kazakhstan, told RFA.

“People are taught what to say, and they were warned not to mention the difficulties they are facing,” he said.

CCP confidentiality agreement distributed to prisoners in Xinjiang
A photo of the CCP confidentiality agreement distributed to detainees of Awat County, Xinjiang. (Supplied)
Translation of CCP confidentiality agreement distributed to prisoners in Xinjiang
Translation of CCP confidentiality agreement distributed to detainees of Awat County, Xinjiang.

An international visit to China’s northwestern region is expected within weeks, according to the RFA report.

Several U.N. member states called on China to allow observers into the region during the U.N. Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review on Nov. 6 last year. That’s occurred amid growing international awareness and mounting evidence of rapidly built mass-detention facilities in Xinjiang facilities through satellite imagery compiled by online researchers.

Numerous testimonies from former Uyghur detainees have also revealed the widespread human-rights abuses suffered by those both inside and outside the camps, including what the Uyghur diaspora is calling a genocide of its culture by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Uyghurs, along with other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as religious believers who remain outside state control, have long been targeted by the ruling CCP for thought transformation through “re-education”—what outsider observers call brainwashing.

In October, Xinjiang authorities moved to legalize the detention facilities, saying they were to “educate and transform” those whom the CCP deems at risk of the “three evil forces” of “extremism, separatism, and terrorism.”

The facilities were renamed as “vocational training centers” and now, mounting evidence suggests that detainees are being exploited in forced labor facilities within the camps-turned-training centers.

Game of Deception

Uyghur businessman Abdurahman Hasan, who fled Xinjiang in January 2017 after he was blacklisted by the CCP, believes Beijing is making efforts to relocate prisoners to deceive international inspection teams.

“Now, they are moving a lot of people to inner China. I think China is trying to cheat international organizations,” Hasan told The Epoch Times in a phone interview from Istanbul.

Chinese provinces including Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi, and Gansu have each been set a quota of prisoners to take in, CCP sources told Bitter Winter. Shaanxi Province has reportedly been assigned a quota of 25,000.

Thousands of Uyghurs were transferred from Kashi prefecture in September 2018, and the CCP is being meticulous in concealing the detainees’ movements, insiders with knowledge of the transfers told the magazine.

During the relocation, buses are covered with misleading labels, windows are blacked out, and Uyghurs are transferred at night with their heads covered in black sacks, according to insiders. In addition, officers communicate using hand gestures, uniforms are stripped of badges and ID numbers, and license plates are concealed.

The Ghulja businessman told RFA that when he was in Xinjiang, he regularly saw police vehicles near his home that he believes were transferring prisoners through “area roads” in the region.

Destruction of Evidence

Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), told The Epoch Times that he believes the CCP would work ahead of any expected inspection to remove evidence that could indicate the facilities are punitive in nature, as well as improve the appearance of existing aspects of the camps to fit their narrative of them being teaching facilities for “vocational skills.”

“They could take a few fences down so the detainees have more movement inside the facility,” Ruser said. “We might see a stronger focus on factories especially and I think we’ll see a sanitation—they’ll make the factories a lot nicer quality. I think they’ll try to highlight the classroom buildings and the administration buildings, rather than the dormitories.”

A police station officer from the Tazghun township told RFA that authorities already have removed barbed wire from camp walls, metal bars from cell doors and windows, and taken down CCTV cameras.

In recent weeks, PRC flags have been removed from Xinjiang’s streets and replaced with “decorative reproductions of Uyghur musical instruments,” the businessman from Ghulja told RFA. He added that residents are being trained to sing and dance, and are told to “smile joyfully” while looking “happy, enthusiastic … and content with life.”

“No one may look sad, otherwise there will be consequences,” he said.

Xinjiang officials may attempt to “underplay the numbers” of detainees, while focusing on the “vocational-training aspect,” Ruser added.

“It sounds like they’re going to try to seize the narrative away from the facilities as being constrictive for the lives of the detainees and instead present it as an opportunity.”

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Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.