According to new research from the BBC, China is deliberately separating Muslim children from their families, faith and language in its far western region of Xinjiang. Records show that in one township alone more than 400 children have lost not just one but both parents to some form of internment, either in the camps or in prison.
Based on publicly available documents, and backed up by dozens of interviews with family members overseas, the BBC has gathered some of the most comprehensive evidence to date about what is happening to children in the region. Alongside the efforts to transform the identity of Xinjiang’s adults, the evidence points to a parallel campaign to systematically remove children from their roots.
“I think the evidence for systematically keeping parents and children apart is a clear indication that Xinjiang’s government is attempting to raise a new generation cut off from original roots, religious beliefs and their own language,” Dr Adrian Zenz, a German researcher widely credited with exposing the full extent of China’s mass detentions of adult Muslims in Xinjiang, told the BBC. “I believe the evidence points to what we must call cultural genocide.”
The research shows that children are taken to schools that are secured with “hard isolation closed management measures.” Many of the schools bristle with full-coverage surveillance systems, perimeter alarms and 10,000 Volt electric fences, with some school security spending surpassing that of the adult re-education camps.
Just as with the camps, there is now a concerted drive to all but eliminate the use of Uyghur and other local languages from school premises. Individual school regulations outline strict, points-based punishments for both students and teachers if they speak anything other than Chinese while in school.
BBC interviewed over 60 people in exile in Turkey who shared their grief-ridden testimonies and details of the disappearance in Xinjiang of more than 100 children. For these Uyghurs, going back means almost certain detention. Phone contact has been severed – even speaking to relatives overseas is now too dangerous for those in Xinjiang.
“I don’t know who is looking after them,” one mother said, pointing to a picture of her three young daughters, “there is no contact at all.” Another mother, holding a photo of three sons and a daughter, said, “I heard that they’ve been taken to an orphanage.”
Uyghurs, Xinjiang’s largest, predominantly Muslim ethnic group, have found themselves trapped after China began detaining hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other minorities in giant camps. Over one million people have suffered unlawful detention and been forced into re-education camps. The Chinese authorities say the Uighurs are being educated in “vocational training centres” in order to combat violent religious extremism. But evidence shows that many are being detained for simply expressing their faith – praying or wearing a veil.
China has imposed a number of policies restricting the religious and cultural practices of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Province. In Karamay, a city in Xinjiang, bearded men were banned from boarding buses, women have been restricted on the wearing of veils, women and those under 18 are banned from entering mosques, fasting is prohibited during Ramadan for government workers and students, and private study of the Quran is forbidden.
Following the Universal Periodic Review of China during the 40th Human Rights Council session in Geneva, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon issued a statement where he said:
“I am very concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, including the re-education camps and the widespread surveillance and restrictions targeted at ethnic minorities, particularly the Uyghurs. The UK and many of our international partners have made clear during China’s UPR that this is a priority issue.”
The assault on religious freedom in China has been ongoing primarily because authorities view organised religion as a threat to party loyalty. However, recent clampdowns have seen Chinese authorities push human rights violations to new heights. In May this year, the United States Commission on Religious Freedom named China as one of the worst countries in the world for religious freedom.
Earlier this year, the International Observatory of Human Rights published “An Unanswered Telephone Call: A Personal Story of Uyghur persecution in China” written by Aziz Isa Elkun, Secretary of Uyghur Pen Centre. He lives in exile in London and he was refused a visa to go to his fathers’ funeral and has not been able to speak or communicate with his mother or any of his other relatives who are still in Xinjiang.
Aziz told IOHR: “There is no doubt that many forms of genocide are taking place in Uyghurs’ homeland of East Turkistan. The Chinese government is committing one of the worst crimes against humanity in this century and there are plenty of evidence that hundreds and thousands of Uyghur children are separated from their parents, because either the parents were arbitrarily detained and locked up or died inside Chinese Concentration camps.”
“Now there is an estimate of more than 3 million Uyghurs are locked up in Chinese Concentration camps. The death rate from the camp is also steadily rising. Whoever responsible committing such horrendous crimes, including the Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, must be punished according to the international law. The foremost priority now is to save the Uyghur people before it’s too late. So the kind people of the world who care about humanity, must stand up, say NO to China and take action now!” Aziz said.
This year, IOHR also supported a protest organised by the British Uyghur community outside the Chinese Embassy in London against the persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.