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China's Repression Of Muslim Uighurs Is Apparently Growing More Intense


For years, China has been repressing members of the Muslim Uyghur minority, a group that lives in northwest China's Xinjiang province. Now the crackdown seems to be getting more intense. As many as a million Uyghurs may be held in political re-education camps. Last week a U.N. committee urged China to release anyone who has not been convicted of a crime. Eva Dou of The Wall Street Journal has been reporting on this mass detention and joins us now. Welcome.

EVA DOU: Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So we've reported in the past on China's detention of Uyghur Muslims, locking up large numbers of people for seemingly arbitrary reasons. What's changed recently?

DOU: Well, one of the big things that's happened is that last month, there was an U.N. hearing where China was kind of forced to address in a public, international setting these re-education centers for the first time. China's line has been they're not for political re-education; they're for vocational training. But they did admit that they exist and said it was part of their fight against terrorism.

And something else that's changing is that more and more Uyghurs overseas are starting to come out and talk about what they and their families have experienced. So they're asking Uyghurs who live overseas to send their passport and other ID, to send their work and school documentation to prove that they're not extremists.

SHAPIRO: That's one of the things that's so striking about your reporting - is that people who live thousands of miles from China in Europe or in the United States still feel unsafe and threatened by China's crackdown on Uyghur people.

DOU: Yeah, yeah. And much of the campaign is focused overseas because the idea is people who live overseas - they might be in terrorist groups, and then they'll come back and bring those kind of extremist views back into China.

SHAPIRO: Is there evidence bearing that out - that these people living overseas Uyghur communities are involved in extremist activities?

DOU: A small number of Uyghurs have been found to be fighting with the Islamic State, with the Taliban. And scholars largely see that as a reaction to this very heavy government control of Uyghurs, that it's pushed some people to become more extremist. But really, the vast majority of Uyghurs who are living overseas - they're not in extremist groups. A lot of them are students. A lot of them are professionals.

SHAPIRO: So how does the Chinese government crack down on a Uyghur person who might be living in Sweden or Japan or the United States?

DOU: Some people have been approached and pushed to spy and to work as informants on other Uyghurs, other oversea Uyghur communities. And some have been pushed to come back to talk with police and not really told why they're being asked to come back. And a lot of times, their family who are back home in China are used as leverage. And they are told in no uncertain terms that their family will be detained; their family will suffer the consequences if they don't cooperate.

SHAPIRO: And then at the same time, the camps seem to be growing, perhaps as many as 1 million people currently being held there.

DOU: Yeah. We've been reviewing satellite images that show the expansion of the camps. And over the past year, there's been quite rapid construction in a lot of places.

SHAPIRO: China has been so oppressive to its Uyghur minority for so many years. Do you know why it has suddenly taken on this new level of intensity within the last year or so?

DOU: Yeah. There is a new leader in Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo, who had previously been the head in Tibet. And so when he was in Tibet, he instituted many of these similar iron-fisted methods of rule. That was seen as a success, and so he was brought over to Xinjiang, where he's instituted much of the same.

SHAPIRO: Eva Dou is a China reporter for The Wall Street Journal speaking with us from Beijing. Thanks so much.

DOU: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.