Diary: Prisons in the Mountains

Ben Mauk
Vol. 41 No. 18 · 26 September 2019
pages 40-41 | 2582 words

In August 2018 I was in Zharkent, a market town in Kazakhstan near the Chinese border, reporting on the extradition trial of an asylum seeker named Sayragul Sauytbay. She claimed she had been forced to teach Mandarin in a political re-education camp near her home town in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China’s largest and most ethnically diverse administrative territory. It was rumoured that such camps were proliferating across Xinjiang as the Chinese government sought not only to quell separatist violence but to force assimilation on the region’s non-Han population. A majority of the region’s inhabitants belong to Turkic and predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, including more than 12 million Uyghurs and about 1.5 million Kazakhs. The rest of the population is Han Chinese, many of whom arrived in the region between the 1950s and the 1970s, as part of Beijing’s effort to sedenterise the country’s western frontier. Satellite photographs suggested that a huge number of prison-like structures, which were described in government tenders as ‘re-education’ facilities, had been erected since 2016. Leaked internal documents showed a large increase in arrests in the region and more jobs for guards, teachers and police officers. Visitors and journalists reported roadblocks and checkpoints, the collecting of biometric data, forced family separation, prohibitions against religious and cultural practices, the destruction of mosques and cemeteries, and the imposition of Big Brothers and Sisters – Han Chinese party members – into Muslim family homes.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT London Review of Books