U.N. calls on China to free Uighurs from ‘re-education camps’

August 30, 2018

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations human rights experts voiced concern on Thursday over alleged Chinese political “re-education camps” for Muslim Uighurs, and called for the immediate release of those detained on the “pretext of countering terrorism”.

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination cited estimates that “from tens of thousands to upwards of a million Uighurs” may be detained in the far western Xinjiang province.

Its findings were issued after a two-day review of China’s record, the first since 2009, earlier this month.

China’s foreign ministry rejected the allegations at the time, and said that anti-China forces were behind criticism of policies in Xinjiang.

China has said that Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists who plot attacks and stir up tensions between the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and the ethnic Han Chinese majority.

The independent experts said during the review that the panel had received many credible reports that a million ethnic Uighurs are held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy”. Panel expert Gay McDougall described it at the time as a “no-rights zone”.

In its conclusions, the panel said it was alarmed by: “Numerous reports of detention of large numbers of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities held incommunicado and often for long periods, without being charged or tried, under the pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism.”

It regretted that there was no official data on those detained “for even non-threatening expressions of Muslim ethno-religious culture like daily greetings”.

The panel decried “reports of mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uighurs, including through frequent baseless police stops and the scanning of mobile phones at police checkpoint stations”.

There were reports that “many Uighurs abroad who left China have allegedly been returned to the country against their will”, it said, calling on China to disclose the current location and status of students and asylum seekers who went back.

The panel also urged China to allow Tibetans access to passports for foreign travel and to promote the use of the Tibetan language in education, the judicial system, and media.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

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