The Chinese government insists its detention and re-education of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities is part of legitimate counterterrorism operations.

Overwhelming evidence shows that is not true.

Look at the facts. Chinese authorities have interned more than 1 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslims in camps where prisoners are forced to renounce their religious and ethnic identities and swear allegiance to the Communist Party. The truth is that in the camps people are tortured and forced to work in labor camps. A big target: Uyghur intellectuals whose writing and teaching promotes Uyghur culture.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares every human’s right “to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” China is not only a signatory to the Declaration, but also participated in its drafting in 1948.

The Chinese government has:

Reporters reaching toward man speaking (© Andy Wong/AP Images)
Shohrat Zakir, center, chairman of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, fields questions from reporters in July about the government’s treatment of Uyghurs. (© Andy Wong/AP Images)

“China’s repressive campaign in Xinjiang is not about terrorism,” Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said at a meeting of Central Asian states during the United Nations General Assembly in September. It’s “about China’s attempt to erase its own citizens’ Muslim faith and culture.”

That same week, the Chinese ambassador claimed that the camps constitute useful experiments in preventive counterterrorism.

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan flatly rejected China’s claims, saying the idea that the Chinese government is carrying out counterterrorism is a “false narrative.” Uyghur Muslims “can be detained for simply possessing books on religion and Uyghur culture, reciting the Quran at a funeral, or even wearing clothing with the Muslim crescent,” he said.

“What China is doing is not counterterrorism,” Sam Brownback, ambassador at large for international religious freedom at the State Department, and State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Nathan Sales said in an essay in May. “It is ugly repression, on a mass scale.”

A version of this story was originally published December 3, 2019.