Authorities are requiring Uyghur pupils studying in mainland China universities to return to their homes in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) during their summer break to take part in propaganda tours promoting ethnic unity and lauding central government policies.
In a statement dated July 6 and posted at the University of Information Technology in Sichuan province’s capital Chengdu, the Ministry of Education’s Ethnic Education Department announced a decision to “organize the students from Xinjiang in the mainland returning to their hometowns to speak out in the summer.”
The directive, which claims to apply to students of “all ethnicity” from the majority Uighur-populated XUAR, was undertaken to “resist the destructive infiltration of the ‘three evils’” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism in schools, “effectively prevent the downloading and dissemination of terrorist materials, and improve students’ legal awareness and upholding of the law.”
“All Xinjiang students are required to participate (including all ethnic groups), and they will preach to the public, and the publicity activities will cover every student,” the notice reads, adding that all universities must ensure that their pupils from the region take part in the initiative.
The students’ speeches are expected to “promote national unity, national mutual trust and anti-extremism as the keynotes, while vigorously promoting the benefits of the party’s various policies” to the masses, it says.
The key goals of the campaign are to “denounce the reactionary nature of the ‘three evils,’ expose their ugly face, and demonstrate the students’ firm political stance,” according to the announcement, which notes that completion of the “summer speech program” must be “verified by grassroots government departments and will become part of the students’ record.”
While the announcement does not require students to return to the XUAR, they will not be permitted to re-enroll with their university for the fall semester unless they obtain verification from local authorities that they took part in the propaganda campaign in the region—essentially forcing them to do so.
Information about government-organized transportation for students to and from the XUAR is also provided.
Two Europe-based Uyghurs in exile, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFA’s Uyghur Service last week that the announcement had forced their family members to return to the XUAR during the summer break from their universities in Shanghai and Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province.
But they suggested that rather than taking part in a propaganda campaign, the two students appear to have been sent for “re-education” upon their return to the region.
One source told RFA they “felt terrible” that a female relative had been “forced to return,” adding that they were unsure of her situation back home.
“I recently learned from a family friend that she had to attend indoctrination classes every day” during which she and other students were “locked in school compound and are not allowed to go out,” the source said.
“Some 40 or 50 of them sleep on the floor or on bunk beds, if lucky, in classrooms. They eat whatever is given to them. They don’t seem to face physical torture but I pray to God to protect them from any harm.”
The second source said she was deeply concerned about her sister, who she had lost touch with after she was forced to return to the XUAR from her university.
“Both of my parents are now detained in a political detention center and nobody is home to welcome her, so I am really worried about her whereabouts,” the source said.
“I am not sure if she was taken to an indoctrination class or a political detention center like my parents.”
Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” views have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout the XUAR, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
China’s central government authorities have not publicly acknowledged the existence of re-education camps in the XUAR, and the number of inmates kept in each facility remains a closely guarded secret, but local officials in many parts of the region have in RFA telephone interviews forthrightly described sending significant numbers of Uyghurs to the camps and even described overcrowding in some facilities.
Citing credible reports, lawmakers Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, who head the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said recently that as many as 500,000 to a million people are or have been detained in the re-education camps, calling it ”the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, said the number “could be closer to 1.1 million, which equates to 10-11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the region.”
Reported by Gulchehra Hoja for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.