By Maya Wang

“His wife wore veils.” “He has one more child than allowed by the family planning policy.” “He prayed after each meal.”

These are some of the reasons people in Karakax County in Xinjiang, northwestern China, are being detained in “political education” camps. Nothing done was illegal, but in Chinese authorities’ eyes, living the life of a Turkic Muslim is punishable. Their religious, linguistic, and cultural differences are deemed evidence of disloyalty to the Chinese Communist Party.

xinjiang camp detention
File photo posted by the Xinjiang Judicial Administration to its WeChat account. File photo: Xinjiang Judicial Administration.

On February 18, international media, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, and academic researcher Adrian Zenz published the “Karakax list,” a spreadsheet leaked by an unnamed Uyghur source that provides disturbing details on 331 people and their families caught in Xinjiang’s dragnet.

Much of the information is chillingly familiar. In 2018, Human Rights Watch described the Chinese government’s mass arbitrary detention, torture, forced political indoctrination, and mass surveillance of Xinjiang’s Muslims. We also documented the authorities’ mass involuntary collection of biometrics from DNA to voice samples, and their use of that data to track residents in the region.

But Chinese authorities continue to enjoy impunity for these systematic rights violations. Muslim-majority countries – including democracies like Malaysia and Indonesia – have largely remained silent. While some governments have pressed China to allow independent observers into the region, China has brushed these off; only the United States has imposed some sanctions on police and companies in Xinjiang.

The Chinese government’s recent claims to have released all of the one million arbitrarily detained Turkic Muslims ring hollow as evidence suggests that some are now subjected to forced labour instead. The mass surveillance systems also tightly control the movement of Xinjiang’s purportedly “free” residents. Some camp detainees have also disappeared into Xinjiang’s vast prison system. Many relatives of the detained living abroad have told us they still have no contact with family members in Xinjiang.

While Xinjiang’s abuses may have shifted shape, they have not disappeared. Concerned governments should take action at the United Nations Human Rights Council next week by supporting the call of the UN high commissioner for human rights on China to allow independent monitoring and reporting of rights violations in Xinjiang. Countries should on their own impose targeted sanctions on the senior officials responsible for abuses, such as Party Secretary Chen Quanguo.

Beijing needs to know that its repression in Xinjiang will no longer escape scrutiny.

Human Rights Watch is a nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organisation made up of roughly 400 staff members around the globe. Established in 1978, Human Rights Watch is known for its accurate fact-finding, impartial reporting, effective use of media, and targeted advocacy, often in partnership with local human rights groups. Human Rights Watch meets with governments, the United Nations, regional groups like the African Union and the European Union, financial institutions, and corporations to press for changes in policy and practice that promote human rights and justice around the world.