Since 2017 China’s government has had an “anti-terror” campaign in the majority-Muslim Xinjiang region, meaning increased surveillance, arrests and detention.

The United Nations has raised alarm over the tens of thousands of Uyghur Muslims being held in detention centres in Xinjiang, northwest China.

In a report last Thursday, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said the Chinese government had “transformed the autonomous region of the Uyghurs into something like a mass detention camp”, reported AsiaNews.

Based on a number of testimonies heard in August, the committee members criticised “the broad definition of terrorism and vague references to extremism and unclear definition of separatism in Chinese legislation”.

Ever since ethnic riots in 2009 in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, and a wave of high-profile Chinese train station bombings attributed to Uyghurs, the region has been restive.

Since 2017 the government has had an “anti-terror” campaign there, against what it calls the rising threat of terrorism and separatism.

Testimonies also revealed the circumstances in prisons where “tens of thousands of Uyghurs are piled up”, reported AsiaNews, adding: “Due to overpopulation and torture, deaths are also reported.”

Although most of those detained have a Muslim background, those who have converted to Christianity have also been caught up in the crackdown.

On Friday (31 August) China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the allegations, saying they were “not true”.

“Maintaining lasting peace and security in Xinjiang is the common wish of all ethnicities,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, as reported by CNN. “The policies and measures in Xinjiang are aimed at preserving stability, promoting development and unity, and improving livelihood.”

‘Anti-terror’ campaign

Hundreds of thousands – reports say it might be over a million – Uyghur and Kazakh men have been rounded up and taken to “re-education centres”, also known as “study centres” or “mind-transformation centres”, where they are detained for weeks or even months.

Children, whose parents or guardians have been taken to the camps, end up in orphanages until their parents are released.

World Watch Monitor reported in July how, in one village alone where approximately 40% of the more than 1,700 residents had been taken to re-education camps, some 50 to 60 children had been sent to orphanages.