November 30 2019
403 pages of documents belonging to China’s ruling Communist party have been leaked to the New York Times, exposing the full extent of the persecution against and the detention of around 1 million Chinese Uyghur Muslims. Over 150 of the pages detail the surveillance and control of Muslim communities in Xinjiang, while close to half of the reports consist of internal speeches by the President and other Chinese leaders. The documents also provide an insight into the procedures officials were expected to follow when breaking the news of missing parents to their children, who were returning to Xinjiang from schooling elsewhere. While the Chinese government has previously denied that the detention facilities are anything other than job-training centres that use moderate techniques to combat Islamic extremism, these documents have revealed the insidious nature of the Chinese government’s crackdown on religious freedom.
Procedures for Returning Students:
Students returning home from university were told that their relatives had been taken to a training school to be “educated.” They were also told that tuition, food, and accommodation were all free and of “quite” a high standard. When asked about the reason behind this schooling, officials were instructed to explain that the students’ parents had been influenced by extremism and terrorist ideologies; children were then told that the decision was for their own benefit as well as their family’s. The officials were also told to tell relatives that the detainees had not officially committed a crime but that “their thinking had been influenced by unhealthy thoughts," and that, without intervention, “they’ll become a major active threat to society”. Relatives were to be released based on a variety of criteria, including: diligence in studies, performance in chores, and aptitude in morning exercises. Children were also informed that their behavior, including the spreading of rumors, could affect the date of release. If students wished to speak to their family, they would have to organize a video call, monitored by authorities.
Some scripted responses from authorities included telling children that “only actively undergoing education and training can thoroughly eradicate this malignant tumor” - this “tumor” being Islamic extremism - while also reminding them that “freedom is only possible when this “virus” in [relatives’] thinking is eradicated and they are in good health.”
In addition, the Chinese government implemented a scheme called the ‘Three Immediates, Five-Step Work Method’ for returning students whose parents were missing.
The Three Immediates:
Immediately report: This step consists of intercepting students’ social medias, including WeChat and Weibo. Once they return from university, they were to undergo “ideological re-education”, in order to help them understand why their parents had been placed into the camps. Undercover police and local authorities would meet students upon their arrival, “to show humane concern and stress the rules”.
Immediate discussion: Once students had returned from university, “thought guidance” was to be carried out by an authoritative figure, who could be trusted. This might include: “the head of the class at their former school, or the chief of the local police station who has previously been familiarized with policies”
Immediately solve family difficulties: Officials were to meet with students who were especially unsettled by the discovery of the absence of their parents. Then, they were instructed to assess “the range of work and hardship in their families”. They were then allocated “paired poverty eradication partners," who would gain a better understanding of the family’s financial situation, and seek a resolution in dire situations, while reminding students that “the party and government will do everything possible to ease your hardships.” Such procedures were in use so that “students [would] feel the warmth of the party and government”. The New York Times points out that, in some cases, students and their relatives are not always sure which family members are in detention, and are aware that spreading this information could result in trouble with the authorities.
Five-Step Work Method:
“Fully assess the situation, set up a file and take the initiative to link up." This step consists of carrying out a “concentrated assessment and inspection” of students studying outside of the Xinjiang region: authorities would anticipate the students’ train number, and predicted time of arrival.
“Psychological guidance and thought inspection." Main leaders of the township (town, farm, street) would await students at the Ministry of Justice office, prepared to enter into conversation upon their arrival.
“Report as soon as one returns to the village and pair up to assist." Authorities were told to profile each returning student, examining all the devices in their possession. Officials were also instructed “develop a special work program, a visit program, or an aid program” for students whose entire immediate family is being punished.
“Educational practice and quantitative assessment.” This refers to the “535” training regime, which is used to re-educate returning students whose families have been detained. The first “5” consists of five classes: security, job internships, law, ethnic unity, and mobile internet security. The “3” represents the “Xinjiang Three Histories”, studying the history of religion, ethnicity, as well as Xinjiang itself. The final “5” revolves around the “Five Identifications”: identifying with the motherland, the Chinese nation, Chinese culture, the Communist Party and socialism as portrayed in China.
“Analysis and judgment and seamless connection." The figure in charge of the township must fill in “Assessment and Control Files for the Returning Children of the Students of Concentrated Education and Training in Turpan City”, before “seeing them off” at train stations. The township leader would then have to connect with the students’ scholars, informing them of the pupils’ opinions, beliefs, and behavior while returning the aforementioned “Assessment and Control Files” to secure offices, to be used “as education and supervision reference material the next time the students return home.
President Xi Jinping’s speeches were also included in the leaked documents, detailing how a series of events in 2014 likely triggered his prejudice against Uyghurs. The President had spent four days in Xinjiang, when, on the final day of his visit, two Uyghur militants staged a suicide bombing outside a train station, which left close to 80 injured and 1 dead. It had been only weeks earlier that Uyghur militants had killed 31 and injured 140 in a stabbing rampage. Not long after the president had left Xinjiang, another group of militants threw launched explosives into a vegetable market. This incident left 94 injured and at least 39 dead.
It is notable that the leader was previously adamant that Uyghurs were not to be marginalised. In a private, internal speech, he explained: “In light of separatist and terrorist forces under the banner of Islam, some people have argued that Islam should be restricted or even eradicated,”, and went on to describe such views as “biased, even wrong”. However, he has since made calls to use the “organs of dictatorship,'' showing “absolutely no mercy”.
11 pages of the leaked documents detail an investigation into Wang Yongzhi, the official responsible for overseeing the county of Yarkland, and his failure to follow orders, while 15 pages contain information regarding a confession Yongzhi gave, which could have been given under duress.
Yongzhi was not a firm enforcer of religious policies, even suggesting that party officials should read the Qur’an to better understand Uyghur traditions. Despite building massive detention facilities, spending $180 million on sites as big as 50 basketball courts, Wang eventually ordered the release of 7,000 inmates, describing himself as acting “selectively”, and making his “own adjustments, believing that rounding up so many people would knowingly fan conflict and deepen resentment,”. Wang was consequently stripped of his job title, arrested, and prosecuted. According to the documents, Wang expressed concern about the camps, due to previous targets set to reduce poverty in Xinjiang, which he now perceived to be unattainable because of the amount of working-age citizens being sent away. Allegedly, Wang was also concerned that failing to meet this goal would limit his chances of attaining a promotion. Ultimately, the internal report summarized that Wang “refused to round up everyone who should be rounded up”.
Ultimately, the Xinjiang Papers have revealed the Chinese government’s efforts to implement religious conformity. While President Xi Jinping has previously denied actively discriminating against Uyghur Muslims, the term “disease” has repeatedly been used throughout the papers to describe the religion of Islam, while university students have been falsely informed that their parents are members of terrorist organisations. The Communist Party are determined to erase the possibility of rebellion or disagreement, as shown through the silencing of Wang Yongzhi and their adamance that the Papers are “fake news”.
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