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China ‘promotes repentance’ in Uyghur prison camps, leaked reports show

Police patrolling in a night food market near the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, a day before the Eid al-Fitr holiday [JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images]

Leaked documents dubbed the “China cables” have revealed details of how the country runs its high-security prison camps for Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.

China has long come under criticism for human rights abuses and its policy of rounding up Uyghur Muslims and detaining them in internment camps.

However other countries have defended Beijing’s crackdown as a necessary counter-terror measure. In August, 37 mainly Muslim majority countries signed a letter of support.

The leaked documents include a nine-page memo sent out in 2017 by then deputy secretary of Xinjiang’s Communist Party to officials running the camps.

The memo ordered staff to “promote repentance and confession”, “increase discipline and punishment of behavioural violations” and “[ensure] full video surveillance coverage of dormitories and classrooms free of blind spots.”

There is a points system which rewards ideological transformation, study, training and discipline and determines whether or not a detainee will be allowed to contact their family upon release.

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The leaked documents show how over the course of one week in 2017, 15,000 people from southern Xinjiang were sent to the camps.

At one stage 1.8 million people were flagged up by the authorities for having the Zapya data sharing app on their phone. The government ordered over 40,000 of them to be investigated one by one.

The cables also detail how authorities instructed security officials to detain or deport people with foreign passports which are a grounds for suspicion and for whom “suspected terrorism cannot be ruled out”.

Over the past several years the Chinese government has put pressure on countries wishing to develop closer ties with Beijing to arrest and hand over Uyghurs, including Egypt, Morocco, the UAE and Pakistan.

Egypt is one of the countries that signed a letter in support of China’s crackdown on Uyghurs this summer.

Since Egypt signed a 2016 loan with the IMF, China has injected $16-20 billion worth of loans, investments and development projects into the Egyptian economy which have been primarily financed infrastructure, energy and telecommunication sectors, according to a new report by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. One of the conditions of the loan was attracting foreign investment.

Two years ago Egyptian security forces raided houses where Uyghurs lived and sent them to the Chinese embassy in Egypt. Cairo also arranged for Chinese officials to interrogate Uyghurs inside Egyptian prisons.

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