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The Chinese government has arbitrarily arrested and detained over one million Uyghurs and members of other predominantly Muslim minority groups from 2017 to 2023, according to a report released by the United States. The “2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” released by the US on Tuesday, emphasised that the genocide and crimes against humanity have occurred during the year in China against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; enforced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; involuntary or coercive medical or psychological practices; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by the government including, since 2017, of more than one million Uyghurs and members of other predominantly Muslim minority groups in extrajudicial internment camps, prisons, and an additional unknown number subjected to daytime-only “re-education” training; the lack of an independent judiciary and Communist Party control over the judicial and legal system; political prisoners; transnational repression against individuals in other countries, and arbitrary interference with privacy including pervasive and intrusive technical surveillance and monitoring.

It also included serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom, including criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others, and serious restrictions on internet freedom, including site blocking, the report stated. Moreover, the human rights abuses in China also include, crimes involving violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups, including Uyghurs; trafficking in persons, including forced labour; the prohibition of independent trade unions and systematic restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and the existence of some of the worst forms of child labour. However, the government did not take credible steps to identify or punish officials who may have committed these human rights abuses, the report emphasised.

There were numerous reports that the Chinese government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings, during 2023. “In many instances few or no details were available. There continued to be no government transparency or public statistics on executions,” the report stated. In Xinjiang, there were reports of custodial deaths related to detentions in the internment camps. Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that Tumshuq Prison in Xinjiang’s Maralbeshi County released the bodies of at least 26 Uyghur inmates to their families before the Eid al-Fitr holiday. Moreover, enforced disappearances through multiple means continued nationwide on a systemic scale.

According to the report, “The primary means by which authorities forcibly disappeared individuals for sustained periods was known as “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location” (RSDL).” RSDL codified in law the long-standing practice of detaining and removing from the public eye individuals the state deemed a risk to national security or intended to use as hostages. According to an April 2022 report by human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Safeguard Defenders, between 55,977 and 113,407 persons were placed into RSDL (and later faced trial) from 2015 to 2021.

Highlighting the cases of arbitrary arrests and detention, the report stressed that lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, religious leaders and adherents, and former political prisoners and their family members continued to be targeted for arbitrary detention or arrest. In March last year, “the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention rendered its opinion that the deprivation of liberty of Uyghurs Qurban Mamut, Ekpar Asat, and Gulshan Abbas was arbitrary,” the report said.

There were multiple reports authorities arrested or detained lawyers, religious leaders or adherents, petitioners, and other rights advocates for lengthy periods without officially issuing a charge or providing a reason. Moreover, authorities subjected many of these individuals to extralegal house arrest, denial of travel rights, or administrative detention in different types of extralegal detention facilities, including “black jails.

” However, the law stated that the courts should exercise judicial power independently, without interference from administrative organs, social organizations, and individuals, but, the judiciary did not exercise judicial power independently. “Judges regularly received political guidance on pending cases, including instructions on how to rule, from national and local governments and the CCP, particularly in politically sensitive cases,” the report noted. Corruption often influenced court decisions since safeguards against judicial corruption were vague and poorly enforced. “A CCP-controlled committee decided most major cases, and the duty of trial and appellate court judges was to craft a legal justification for the committee’s decision.” Furthermore, China has also been facing a lack of freedom of expression in the country, including for press members and other media.

Leading to this, citizens often avoided discussing political matters, leaders, or “sensitive” topics for fear of official punishment. “Authorities routinely took harsh action against citizens who questioned the legitimacy of the CCP or criticized President Xi Jinping,” the report stated. Moreover, some independent think tanks, study groups, and seminars also reported pressure to cancel sessions on sensitive topics. Those who made comments deemed politically sensitive in public speeches, performances, exhibitions, academic discussions, or remarks to media, or who posted sensitive comments online, remained subject to punitive measures, as did members of their families.

The government extensively used mobile phone apps, cameras, and other electronics to monitor all speech and movement. Authorities in Xinjiang employed a comprehensive database that tracked the movements, mobile app usage, and even electricity and gasoline consumption of inhabitants in the region. “Government officials used criminal prosecution, civil lawsuits, violence, detention, and other forms of harassment to intimidate authors and journalists and to prevent the dissemination of unsanctioned information on a wide range of topics,” the report noted.

Moreover, dozens of Uyghur relatives of overseas-based journalists working for RFA’s Uyghur Service disappeared or were detained in Xinjiang. The report released by the US further noted the concerns regarding internet freedom and said that the law also permitted security agencies to cut communication networks across an entire geographic region during “major security incidents.” Domestic internet authorities led by the Cybersecurity Defense Bureau targeted individuals accused of defaming the government online, whether in public or private messages.

“The law required internet platform companies operating in the country to control content on their platforms or face penalties. According to Citizen Lab, China-based users of the WeChat platform were subjected to automatic filtering of chat messages and images,” it added. Moreover, there were reports of child labour in the manufacturing, service, and retail sectors, despite the country has laws prohibiting all the worst forms of child labour. “Children were reportedly found working at machine and electronic factories, beverage stores, and employed as waiters,” the report added.