According to media reports, nearly one in every 25 persons in a county in China‘s Uyghur heartland has been put to jail on terrorism-related charges, the world’s highest known incarceration rate.
More than 10,000 Uyghurs have been imprisoned in Konasheher county alone, one of several in southern Xinjiang, according to a list obtained and partially corroborated by the media. China has undertaken a violent assault on the Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim minority, in recent years, which it has termed as a “war on terror.”
The list is by far the most comprehensive collection of names of imprisoned Uyghurs to date, demonstrating the scale of a Chinese government effort that swept an estimated million or more individuals into detention camps and prisons. It also validates what families and rights groups have been saying for years: China uses a long-term jail system to keep the Uyghurs in check, using the law as a repressive tool.
Chinese officials announced the closing of short-term, extrajudicial detention centers where Uyghurs were detained without trial in 2019, despite widespread international condemnation. Despite the spotlight on the camps, thousands of Uyghurs remain imprisoned for years, if not decades, on trumped-up terrorist allegations, according to analysts.
Rozikari Tohti, a Uyghur farmer, was renowned as a soft-spoken, family-oriented guy with three children who had little interest in religion. So his cousin, Mihrigul Musa, was stunned to learn that Tohti had been sentenced to five years in jail for “religious fanaticism.”
“I never imagined he’d be imprisoned,” Musa, who now lives in exile in Norway, said. “You’d feel the same way if you saw him.” He’s quite sincere.”
Musa discovered that Tohti’s younger brother Ablikim Tohti was also sentenced to seven years in prison on allegations of “gathering the public to upset social order” from the list. Nurmemet Dawut, Tohti’s next-door neighbor, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the same allegations as well as “picking quarrels and creating problems.”
More than 267,000 people reside in Konasheher county, which is typical of rural southern Xinjiang. According to the list, the penalties ranged from two to 25 years in jail, with an average of nine years. According to Uyghurs in exile, the persons on the list were largely detained in 2017, but their sentences are so long that the great majority of them would still be in prison today.
Men, women, children, and the elderly were among those who were swept away. They all had one trait: they were all Uyghurs.
Experts believe it proves that they were targeted only because they were Uyghurs, a conclusion rejected by Chinese officials. The sentencing were carried out in conformity with the law, according to Xinjiang spokeswoman Elijan Anayat.
“We would never attack certain areas, ethnic groups, or faiths, especially the Uyghurs,” Anayat said. “We will never reveal the bad or wrong the good.”
An anonymous source defined themselves as a member of China’s Han Chinese majority “opposed to the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang,” according to Xinjiang expert Gene Bunin. It was given to the media by Abduweli Ayup, a Uyghur linguist living in exile in Norway. Interviews with eight Uyghurs who recognized 194 persons on the list, as well as legal notifications, recordings of phone calls with Chinese officials, and verification of residence, birthdate, and identification numbers, were used by the media to verify it.
There are no persons on the list who have been charged with homicide or theft. Rather, it concentrates on terrorism, religious fanaticism, and vague allegations like “picking quarrels and creating unrest,” which have typically been used against political dissidents. This indicates that the genuine number of those incarcerated is very definitely larger.
According to Department of Justice figures, the incarceration rate in Konasheher county is more than 10 times greater than that of the United States, one of the world’s major jailers. According to state data from 2013, the most recent time such information were provided, it’s also more than 30 times greater than for China as a whole.
Most arrests were arbitrary and beyond the law, according to Darren Byler, a specialist on Xinjiang’s mass prison system, with people jailed for having relatives overseas or downloading particular mobile phone programs.
“It’s just amazing,” Byler added. “We have never seen entire groups of individuals characterized or seen as terrorists in any other region.””
After a series of knifings and explosions by a small group of Uyghur militants in 2017, the crackdown intensified. The Chinese government supported the mass detentions, claiming that they were both legal and essential in the fight against terrorism.
Officials in Xinjiang proclaimed the short-term detention camps terminated in 2019, claiming that all of the “trainees” had “graduated.”” Four former camp locations visited by Associated Press journalists have been closed or repurposed into other institutions.
However, the jails continue to exist. Along with the crackdown, Xinjiang went on a prison-building frenzy, and the jails grew even as the camps closed. At least a few camp sites have been turned into detention camps.
According to Jeremy Daum, a criminal law scholar at Yale University’s Paul Tsai China Center, China is using the law “as a fig leaf of legitimacy” to deflect international criticism of its detention of Uyghurs.
Experts think the secrecy surrounding the charges against those detained is a red flag. Despite the fact that China makes legal records widely available elsewhere, about 90% of criminal records in Xinjiang are kept secret. People are being accused with “terrorism” for behaviors such as advising colleagues against watching porn and cursing, or praying in jail, according to the few that have emerged.
The Uyghur expatriate who leaked the list to the media, Abduweli Ayup, has meticulously chronicled his community’s continued brutality. But it was this list that blew him away: Neighbors, a relative, and a high school instructor were all on it.
“I had passed out,” Ayup explained. “I had shared other people’s experiences…. and now I’m telling my own childhood narrative.”
Adil Tursun, a well-liked teacher, was the only one in Toquzaq’s high school who could teach Uyghur pupils in Chinese. He was a member of the Communist Party, and his pupils always had the highest chemistry exam results in the town.
Tursun and the other names on the list made no sense to Ayup since they were model Uyghurs.
“The allegations are ludicrous,” he added, citing the names of the offences as “promoting extreme beliefs” and “separatism.”