Urumqi, China, May 17, 2021 / 16:44 pm
New research has shown that amid a widespread “reeducation” effort in a region of China— which the U.S. has designated a genocide— hundreds of Muslim clerics have been detained on suspicion of “extremism,” despite little evidence of any behavior other than the typical behavior of an imam.
An estimated 1 million Uyghurs, members of a Muslim ethnoreligious group, have been detained in hundreds of “reeducation camps” in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region.
Inside the camps the Uyghurs are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination. Outside the camps, Uyghurs are monitored by pervasive police forces and facial recognition technology.
China has repeatedly conflated the Uyghurs’ culture and religious activities with extremism and separatism. The government at one time denied the camps even existed, but has since shifted to defending its actions as a reasonable response to a national security threat.
The BBC recently cited new research that found that China has detained over 600 imams and other Muslim religious figures in the region since 2014. The number of prison sentences has risen dramatically since 2017, with at least 200,000 people entering prison between 2017-2018.
At least half of the 630 clerics confirmed to have been detained were given prison sentences of at least five years, the research from the Uyghur Human Rights Project found, with at least 14 receiving life sentences.
The UHRP says imams are likely targeted because of their influence in their communities.
Uyghurs can be arrested and detained under vague Chinese anti-terrorism laws. Violence in the region escalated in the 1990s and again in 2008.