China has vociferously defended its human rights record at the United Nations, after accusations were made that more than a million Uyghur Muslims have been imprisoned in political reeducation camps.
“Detentions are extra-legal, with no legal representation allowed throughout the process of arrest and incarceration,” the submission said, adding there were “widespread” reports of torture.
Responding to questions Monday, a representative of the Chinese government called the accusations of mass imprisonment “completely untrue.”
“Xinjiang citizens including the Uyghurs enjoy equal freedoms and rights,” Hu Lianhe, a spokesman for China’s United Front Work Department, told the UN panel. “There is no arbitrary detention, or lack of freedom of religion and belief.”
He said there is “no such thing as re-education centers,” but added criminals convicted of “minor offenses” have been assigned to “vocational educational and employment training centers with a view to assisting in their rehabilitation.”
“They are not subject to any arbitrary detention or ill treatment there,” Hu said.
Speaking after China’s presentation, Gay McDougall, vice chairwoman of the UN committee, said “we have to have more than a denial of allegations,” and asked for more evidence from China to counter the claims of rights groups.
For months the Chinese government has allegedly been secretly cracking down on the Muslim residents of Xinjiang, a province in far western China on the borders of central Asia, according to reports leaking out of the heavily-policed region cited in presentations to the UN hearing last week.
According to a since deleted document posted on a Xinjiang government website, the main goal of the scheme was “to fully and accurately verify the real number of Xinjiang’s population, to collect the images, fingerprints, iris scans, blood types, and DNA biometrics of those between the age of 12 and 65.”
Information in Xinjiang is tightly controlled — the province was cut off entirely from the internet for 10 months in 2009 and is still subject to greater censorship and surveillance than other parts of China.
Despite this, details of an alleged political indoctrination program and ongoing crackdown have spread out via diaspora networks and through Chinese media.
China has consistently denied discriminating against Uyghurs and Muslims more broadly, pointing to laws which prohibit the oppression of any ethnic groups. For years, China has justified its policies in Xinjiang on fears of terrorism and separatist violence, tying in the threat from radical Islam in the region to Washington’s “war on terror” and the spread of ISIS in the Middle East and beyond.
“It has avoided the fate of becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or ‘China’s Libya’,” the state media editorial said.
The paper claimed the actions of the Chinese government in Xinjiang had “saved countless lives” and blamed the West for “smearing” their efforts.
“We must hold onto our belief that keeping turmoil away from Xinjiang is the greatest human right,” the article said.
“There are even disturbing reports that young children have been sent to state-run orphanages if even one of their parents is detained in the internment camps,” she said.