A new report alleges human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang are of a scale not seen since the Cultural Revolution and people are locked up simply for having relatives or friends living abroad.
The report also alleges ethnic minority Chinese nationals have been detained in political education centres in the region just for downloading apps such as WhatsApp or for using a Virtual Private Network — allowing one to cross the great firewall.
The Australian can also reveal new allegations that an Australian Uighur grandfather was detained for a night in Guangzhou airport earlier this year in a bare room without a bathroom on an attempt to visit his detained children.
The Human Rights Watch report interviewed 58 former residents of Xinjiang, including detainees of China’s political education camps in the region and the findings back up a recent UN review which said as many as one million people from China’s ethnic minorities may be detained in these facilities.
Mastura Alim, a 24-year-old PhD psychology student at the University of Adelaide, is a member of Australia’s small Uighur community.
She said about 10 family members on her mother’s side and eight on her dad’s side were locked up in these camps, including her grandfather’s children.
“It’s really hard to know we can’t do anything for our family … we can’t send them financial help, nothing,” Ms Alim told The Australian.
She said around March her 71-year-old grandfather, who is an Australian citizen, obtained a Chinese visa and hopped on a plane to Guangzhou in Southern China.
When he got there he was taken aside by security officials and grilled about his family in Hotan, the city the family are from in Xinjiang. Ms Alim said they did not allow him to make phone calls but said he needed to get on a flight back home the next day.
“(He was in) a room with plastic chairs, he was very tired and had a nose bleed and they didn’t allow him to use the bathroom,” Ms Alim said.
Then on the Saturday night Ms Alim said she got a call from Australian border authorities in Melbourne who told her he was with them and had been turned back without explanation.
“He was shaking, he was in tears,” she said.
Ms Alim said others in the community had been unable to contact most of their relatives.
“It’s hard, any talk of family is enough to set somebody off.”
The Human Rights Watch report, released today includes allegations that people are detained simply for having family or friends abroad, for asking authorities for the return of a passport or for planning to go abroad.
“Our relatives told us that [my brother] is being held in a political education camp “because he’d gone to [a foreign country] and that his brain needs to be cleaned,” Talgat, 29, told Human Rights Watch.
The report said the Chinese government has stepped up pressure on other governments to forcibly return Uighurs in their countries to China.
The government denies there has been rights abuses but say strong policies are needed in light of unrest in the region and terror incidents.