09/20/2023, 17.19
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Beijing seals Uyghur villages, tries to censor UN conferences

Chinese diplomats have tried to block a conference held yesterday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Beijing claims it is shutting down internment camps when in fact it is simply moving inmates to regular prisons.

New York (AsiaNews) – China’s repression in Xinjiang against ethnic Uyghur Muslims has intensified recently; this now includes disrupting meetings and missions by international organisations trying to examine allegations of abuses and violations.

The latest example is a forum held yesterday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. In order to organise a boycott against the event, Chinese diplomats last weekend wrote to various UN missions warning them against attending.

This backfired as the forum drew scores of ambassadors and activist groups. A panel of diplomats and human rights experts discussed Beijing’s latest move against the Uyghurs, i.e. the decision to close internment camps in Xinjiang by moving inmates into its regular penal system.

Beth Van Schaack, US ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, described the Chinese UN mission’s letter as “yet another example of a global campaign of transnational repression” against the Muslim minority.

Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, brandished a copy of the letter, citing China’s “strong recommendation” that nobody attend the event.

“Any government that's going to go out of its way to bother doing this, first of all, has no business sitting on the UN Human Rights Council, but also it's essentially confirming that it's got a lot to hide,” she said.

Gady Epstein, a senior editor at The Economist magazine and the forum’s moderator, noted that the closure of internment camps has pushed what is happening in Xinjiang into the background.

Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnès Callamard said the drop in attention was not due to any changes on the ground. Uyghurs, she said, cannot freely move, practise their religion or culture. Any claims of camp closures were disingenuous; in fact, “we are witnessing more and more arbitrary detention [and] the shifting of individuals into formal prisons.”

Out of more than 15,000 Xinjiang residents whose convictions are known, more than 95 per cent – often on very vague charges like separatism or endangering state security – were given sentences ranging from five to 20 years, in some cases even life imprisonment.

A recent example of China’s crackdown comes from Chuluqai, a village in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, Ghulja County, about 650 km west of Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi. On the pretext of maintaining “peace and security”, it was completely walled off with barbed wire.

Its 13,500 residents are under 24-hour surveillance, restricted in their movements with a single, electrified gate for people and vehicles to go in and out.

This is found in other places, proof that Uyghurs live in a climate of repression, their rights violated, despite China’s official position.

A local guard told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the gate entrance operates as a checkpoint with identity controls – people who want to enter the village must state where they come from and if they have family in jail.

The guard said he had personally observed a similar situation in the villages of Ewlia, Üchon, and Mollatoxtiyuzi, all of them in Ghulja County.

Chinese officials commonly refer to building barriers around communities in Xinjiang as “building new villages” or “transforming neighbourhood appearances”, but in reality, this is meant to limit the freedom of movement of residents.

Beijing's violations against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang are an unresolved issue. In the recent past, the UN Human Rights Council rejected an internal report detailing the abuses and refused to address the question. Most of the countries that did so are predominantly Muslim, but have long given in to Beijing’s lobbying.

One of the charges against Beijing is detaining close to two million people, mostly Uyghurs, in forced labour camps. China has denied the allegations, claiming that the camps in Xinjiang are vocational centres designed to reduce poverty, as well as fight terrorism and separatism.

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See also
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Global coalition calls on UN to confront China on human rights abuses
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