UN Religious Freedom Expert Seeks Visit to China’s Xinjiang

March 5, 2019 Updated: March 5, 2019

GENEVA—The United Nations investigator on religious freedom says he’s asked China to let him visit its Xinjiang region, where some 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims are held in facilities activists call mass detention camps.

Facing growing international opprobrium for what it calls re-education and training centers, China has stepped up diplomatic efforts to fend off censure.

“I have requested for a visit to go there, because this a priority for me in terms of looking at what is happening there. There is reason to be seriously concerned about reports coming out of the Xinjiang region,” U.N. special rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed told a news briefing on March 5 in response to a Reuters query.

China hasn’t yet replied to his February request, he said.

Shaheed, a former Maldives minister, disclosed that he was among several U.N. rights experts who wrote to China last November voicing anxiety at its anti-extremism program.

The letter is also signed by U.N. investigators on arbitrary detention, disappearances, freedom of expression, minority issues, and protecting rights while countering terrorism.

“I wrote to China along with a couple of other rapporteurs on the ‘de-extremification’ law that they are implementing which has resulted in, by some reports, millions being interned,” Shaheed said.

“The concerns we raised were first of all that the laws were overly broadly worded and were targeting essentially protected activities of communities, in terms of their right to thought, conscience, and belief. So a whole range of violations occurring in these communities,” he said.

Chinese Communist Party officials say the mass detentions among the Uyghur population, the majority of whom practice Islam, are part of measures to crack down on terrorism, religious extremism, and separatism in the country. The CCP has used the excuse of potential “extremist threats” to justify its strict surveillance and crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in the region.

“Deaths in Custody”

The U.N. letter voices concern that China’s regulation “targets Turkic Muslim ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities as well as Kazakh nationals” within a context of a “crackdown on the exercise of fundamental rights in Xinjiang.”

It calls on Beijing to repeal the measure.

“There have been allegations of deaths in custody, physical and psychological abuse and torture as well as lack of access to medical care,” it said.

The Chinese regulation defines extremification as the “spreading of religious fanaticism through irregular beards or name selection,” the letter said. The law’s stated aim to make “religion more Chinese” is unlawful, it added.

Uyghurs and other Muslims held in concentration camp-like facilities, known as “re-education” centers, are forbidden from using Islamic greetings, must learn Mandarin Chinese, and sing propaganda songs, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

By Stephanie Nebehay. The Epoch Times contributed to this report.

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