An Uighur student has disappeared after being taken away by police. He had just returned to China from Egypt, and since then, friends and family haven’t seen him in months. As shocking as his disappearance may be to those who know him (and to you), it’s part of a pattern. Since the beginning of the year, mass disappearances have plagued the region of Xinjiang and the Uighurs, a Muslim minority and a group the Chinese government believes has been influenced by radical Islam. Chinese authorities are combating this alleged extremism with data-driven surveillance and trial-less detentions, according to the AP.
Through investigative reporting, the AP has painted a picture of a police state in Xinjiang, under which all Uighurs are treated like terror suspects. The campaign, which includes police checkpoints and facial scanners at popular shopping destinations, is being led by Chen Quanguo, a Chinese Communist Party official, who was appointed to head the region after successfully quelling civil resistance movements in Tibet. His crackdown comes as a response to fatal attacks blamed on Uighur separatists.
Chen and the Xinjiang regional government have not acknowledged requests for comment, but Chinese officials justify the crackdown, since they claim Uighur militants have been fighting on the side of Islamic radicals in Syria. But as international rights groups and Uighur activists have pointed out, this kind of intolerant and draconian anti-terror campaign only validates radical Islamic propaganda used to recruit Uighurs by calling out Chinese oppression.
In what seems like a page out of the playbook of the Crusades, the government’s detention program, which they call "vocational training," is basically forced indoctrination that takes place in militarized detention centers. For a period of 3 months to 2 years, detainees study "Mandarin, law, ethnic unity, de-radicalization, [and] patriotism," according to an online memo published by a human resources official in the region. China has extended the program to Uighurs studying abroad in countries like Egypt, deporting them back to China.
The AP reporters who visited the region felt the reach of the campaign firsthand, as they were detained and interrogated for 11 hours by police for "illegal reporting."