Detained for having a beard: Leaked list reveals China's treatment of Uighurs

For three years Rozinsa Mamattohti wondered what had happened to her two sisters. She is a Uighur Muslim who move to Turkey as a teenager. Her sisters were still living in Karakax County in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. For about 15 years they kept in touch by phone or text. Then, suddenly, things went silent.

Rozinsa Mamattohti says her sisters suddenly stopped communicating with her three years ago.

Last month, she found out what had happened. Rozinsa saw their names on a list of 311 people who were sent to government camps. The so-called Karakax List was made public on Tuesday by a human rights group. They say it is a Chinese government internal document, but have not said who leaked it.

The document revealed that her siblings had been detained for "applying for a passport and violating birth control policy."

"The reasons for the detention are nonsense," says Rozinsa. "What the Chinese government is doing is torture and a crackdown against Uighurs. It's very hard. I can't eat well. I can't sleep well. I'm always thinking about my family in Xinjiang."

The 137-page document backs up suspicions that Muslim minorities in western China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region are being detained in government camps for unjust reasons. It sheds light on what's happening in a region subject to some of the tightest levels of information control in China.

The Karakax List

List reveals reasons for detentions

The Chinese government has not confirmed or denied the authenticity of the leaked document. But Dr. Adrian Zenz, Senior Fellow in China Studies with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and specialist in Uighur issues, says there's a high probability it is authentic, because there is evidence that some individuals on the list do exist.

NHK obtained a copy of the list and what stood out were some of the reasons given for sending people to camps.
Some cases cited Uighur customs such as men growing beards and women wearing scarves. Other reasons included having relatives outside of China, applying for a passport, and accessing a foreign website. Many people were detained for being "born in or after 1980, and untrustworthy."

There are also comments on the handling of the detainees. The document says some who have recognized their mistakes and have demonstrated sincere regret were allowed to return home. Others were to undergo continued education and training for having strong religious beliefs and showing no changes in ideology.

The documents obtained by NHK contained detailed information about the detainees.

"Absolutely no mercy"

The United Nations says around a million Uighurs and other Muslims have been sent to government camps.
Human rights groups say China is forcing them to give up their religion, language and culture. China says the camps are vocational training centers and part of an effort to fight terrorism and prevent people from becoming radicalized.

A facility believed to be a camp.

But the document indicates that the Chinese government is detaining residents who exhibit even the slightest religious behavior or links to other countries.

Last November, the New York Times reported that it had obtained a trove of Chinese government documents that included records of undisclosed speeches made by President Xi Jinping. The article said detainees have no contact with the outside world and are being indoctrinated under strict directives. It also said that, following a terror attack in Xinjiang in 2014, Xi issued a directive to show "absolutely no mercy." It said that determined what came to be the Chinese government's hardline policy against Uighurs and other minorities. The leaked documents suggest that the crackdowns in Xinjiang began on the order of top leaders in Beijing.

International pressure

The US Congress is trying to turn up the pressure on China over its treatment of Uighurs. In December, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to approve the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. The bill calls for sanctions on Chinese officials linked to abuses. It also calls for a ban on exports to China of technology that can be used for surveillance. The bill needs to be approved by the Senate and signed by the President to become law.

Chinese President Xi Jinping

The Chinese government has strongly denounced what it describes as others meddling in domestic affairs. China's Foreign Ministry says the government's handling of the matter is a reasonable part of the country's security policy. A ministry official told reporters on Wednesday that the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has no religious or human rights problems, but it has issues relating to terrorism and secession. He said attempts by organizations or media outlets to smear China's anti-terrorism campaign would fail.

Rozinsa says she hopes that if people realize that many Uighurs are being unjustly detained, it will create international pressure on the Chinese government.

She says many countries know what China is doing, but have kept silent. "I would like them to change their stance and help us with our difficult situation. If they can't help us, then please pray for us."