China’s incarceration of Uyghurs and other Muslims exposed in US documentary

22nd May 2020
China’s incarceration of Uyghurs and other Muslims exposed  in US documentary

A special undercover report from China’s secretive Xinjiang region. Investigating the Communist regime’s mass imprisonment of Muslims, and its use and testing of sophisticated surveillance technology against the population.(Credit: FRONTLINE/PBS)

Meng Yihua

A harrowing undercover investigation into China’s mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities was aired on April 7, on America’s PBS TV network.

In the ninth episode of this season, FRONTLINE reports on the Chinese regime’s mass detention and testing of high-tech surveillance against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

‘China Undercover’ follows the stories of former detainees as well as relatives of current detainees.

It explains the secret language used by Uyghurs, a spoken code in which ‘studying’ means someone is detained in the camps, in line with the Government claim that the camps are ‘re-education centres’.

Former detainees speak of torture, and unbearable circumstances pushing many men and women suicidal thoughts, while Chinese officials declined to comment, instead upholding that ‘students’ are treated with respect and dignity.

The documentary starts with the story of Sadryzhan whose wife travelled from Kazakhstan to East Turkestan referred to in China as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to visit her parents two years ago and never returned to him and their three children.

While he makes yet another trip to the Kazakhstan-China border in March 2019 to find news on his wife, we learn that calls made to China from foreign numbers are monitored, that the Chinese surveillance is so high-tech that it can pick up keywords used in conversations, and that fear among the Muslim minorities in Xinjiang is commonplace. He describes Xinjiang as “an open prison”.

“Uyghurs are not considered human by the Chinese government,” says an engineer who helped build surveillance tools in China — which he says the Communist regime uses to gather data on the Uyghur Muslim population.
FRONTLINE sends Han Chinese reporter I Li undercover to Xinjiang, to investigate further. He poses as a businessman seeking new opportunities on his vacation. He uses his mobile phone to film discreetly; if he is caught filming, even Li could be imprisoned.

Through his conversations with Han taxi drivers, Uyghur taxi drivers, Han store workers, and any locals brave enough to speak with him, we learn that the rules for Uyghurs and Han Chinese are vastly different within Xinjiang.

Frontline’s documentary makes sure to provide historical context, often overlooked in the discussion on the region. The Uyghurs have over a millennium history in Xinjiang, but tensions started when the Qing dynasty invaded 250 years ago.

Today, the Han Chinese form 40 per cent of Xinjiang’s population. In 2009, when peaceful protests against the killing of two Uyghurs elsewhere in China were suppressed by police in Xinjiang, Uyghurs rioted and the Government reported approximately 200 deaths.

Since then, and even more so since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 with a vision of China that didn’t include Uyghurs, innumerable numbers of Uyghurs have been killed and imprisoned. Satellite imagery of Xinjiang within the documentary shows mosques being destroyed and vast prison-like structures and drone footage shows shackled prisoners.

Experts say this is the largest mass incarceration of an ethnic group since the Holocaust; it is an attempt to wipe out the Uyghur traditions, language and culture. With an estimated two million Muslims and Uyghurs imprisoned across more than 1,200 detention centres, detainees suffer involuntary indoctrination, brainwashing and ultimately eradication of their entire way of life.

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