EU Must Demand that China Release 1 Million Uyghurs Detained in 'Re-education' Camps

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The undersigned call on the European Union to ask for the release of over one million Uyghurs detained in ‘re-education’ camps in China in violation of international human rights norms.

In 2017, Chinese authorities initiated a network of ‘re-education’ camps targeting a number of categories of ‘suspicious’ Uyghurs for political indoctrination. This includes:

·      “People who throw away their mobile phone’s SIM card or did not use their mobile phone after registering it
·      Former prisoners already released from prison
·      Blacklisted people
·      ‘Suspicious people’ who have some fundamental religious sentiment
·      People who have relatives abroad
·      People who have travelled abroad for any reason
·      Government employees with religious sentiments or who have expressed sympathy for other Uyghurs
 
Based on media reports, the estimated number of Uyghurs detained in the camps stands around one million in April 2018 in facilities in Hotan, Korla, Ghulja, Kashgar, Urumqi, Aksu, Karamay, Altay and across the region.

Starting around April 2017, the Uyghur diaspora community started losing all contact with their family still in East Turkistan (officially ‘Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’), as the Chinese government targeted Uyghurs with any ties to people overseas. Many of these people are forcibly detained in the ‘re-education’ camps. Their family members outside of East Turkistan have been unable to communicate with them for months and have no information about their whereabouts or well-being.

Reports from Radio Free Asia have revealed the extensive nature of arbitrary detention through ‘re-education’ camps. A December 14, 2017 article disclosed how authorities were holding nearly ten percent of residents in Kona Sheher Township in the camps. Two reports published in January 2018 detailed the overcrowded conditions in camps located in Korla and Hotan. A January 18, 2018 report described how overcrowding at a camp in Korla was causing health problems among inmates. According to sources cited by Radio Free Asia in a January 22, 2018 article as many as 120,000 Uyghurs are being held in camps in the Kashgar region alone.

In 2017, Egyptian authorities returned Uyghur students at the behest of China. Uyghur students returned from Egypt have been sent to these camps. The authorities appear to regard all Uyghurs studying abroad as a potential threat; one student who returned to visit his family from his studies in the United States was held for 17 days and was threatened with retaliation against his family members if he spoke about his experience. Buzainafu Abudourexiti, a student returned from Egypt, is detained at Urumqi Women’s Prison incommunicado after being sentenced to seven years imprisonment at a secret trial in June 2017.

Two returnees, Abdusalam Mamat and Yasinjan, died in December 2017 under uncertain circumstancesduring their time in the camps. In January 2018, Muhammed Salih Hajim, a respected religious scholar and translator of the Quran, died in a ‘re-education’ camp at age 82. In addition, reports have indicated that a young Uyghur was driven to suicide in February 2018, and a Uyghurs teenager died under mysterious circumstances in March 2018.One Kazakh national was imprisoned for over seven months on allegations of helping Uyghurs obtain passports and was subsequently sent to a camp for 20 days.

China’s ‘re-education camp’ system puts in violation of a number of international human rights norms, including those established in the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. 

The EU remains a leading advocate of human rights in the face of increasing authoritarian rule across the globe. The Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy, which establishes guiding principles with regards to foreign policy, outlines how the EU is founded upon the shared principles of “respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.” Furthermore, the document sets out the intention of the EU to “promote human rights in all areas of its external action without exception.” 

The EU must now meet its obligations and call on China to end the ‘re-education’ camp system and to release all Uyghurs detained in these facilities without condition. Silence and inaction are not options with so many lives at stake. 

We therefore urge that the European Union:

1.    Call on the Chinese government to release all Uyghurs held in arbitrary detention or who have been detained without being charged
2.    Urge China to immediately cease its restrictions of freedom of expression and permit the Uyghur people to communicate with their relatives abroad, without the threat of arbitrary detention or other forms of reprisals
3.    Send an official envoy to investigate the situation on the ground 
4.    After a thorough investigation, impose sanctions or any appropriate restrictive measures on individuals or entities responsible for the conception and implementation of the ‘re-education’ camps
5.    Overhaul and strengthen EU-China Human Rights Dialogue going forward



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