By Betul Yuruk
NEW YORK (AA) – Human Rights Watch is blaming the Chinese government for a “systematic campaign of human rights violations” against Uighur Muslims in northwestern Xinjiang, an autonomous region in the country.
According to a 117-page report published over the weekend, the Chinese government conducted “mass arbitrary detention, torture and mistreatment” of Uighur Turks in the region.
The report is based on interviews with 58 former residents of Xinjiang, including former detainees and relatives of detainees, it said.
“Throughout the region, the Turkic Muslim population of 13 million is subjected to forced political indoctrination, collective punishment, restrictions on movement and communications, heightened religious restrictions and mass surveillance in violation of international human rights law,” it added.
Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW, said: “The Chinese government is committing human rights abuses in Xinjiang on a scale unseen in the country in decades.”
Richardson called on the UN and concerned governments to impose sanctions on China in order to put an end to the repression in Xinjiang.
The report highlighted that the level of repression has increased “dramatically” since late 2016 and added that the Chinese authorities have stepped up the mass arbitrary detentions since then.
It also said around a million Uighur Turks are thought to be held in education camps for using foreign communication tools such as WhatsApp.
They are also forced to learn Mandarin and sing praises of the Chinese Communist Party, according to the report.
“Those who resist or are deemed to have failed to ‘learn’ are punished,” it said.
Stating that the control over religious practices was on unprecedented levels, it said neighbors were encouraged to spy on each other by the authorities.
“They have also subjected people in Xinjiang to pervasive and constant surveillance,” it said.
The report said families were separated with the campaign launched against the Uighur Turks and children were left without their parents in one country due to tightening of passport controls and border crossings.
– China rejects accusations
The Chinese Foreign Ministry rejected the attempt by U.S. lawmakers to impose sanctions on Chinese officials, saying its citizens enjoy religious freedom and U.S. lawmakers should properly serve their country.
The Xinjiang region is home to around 10 million Uighurs. The Turkic Muslim group, which makes up around 45 percent of the population of Xinjiang, has long accused China’s authorities of cultural, religious and economic discrimination.
China stepped up its restrictions on the region in the past two years, banning men from growing beards and women from wearing veils and introducing what many experts regard as the world’s most extensive electronic surveillance program, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Up to 1 million people, or about 7 percent of the Muslim population in Xinjiang, have now been incarcerated in an expanding network of “political re-education” camps, according to U.S. officials and United Nations experts.