China 'legalises' Uighur internment camps

Uighur looks at military police in Xinjiang Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Some reports say a million Uighurs have been detained

China's western Xinjiang region has written internment camps for Muslim Uighurs into law amid growing international concern over large-scale disappearances there.

Xinjiang says the camps will tackle extremism through "ideological transformation".

Rights groups say detainees are made to swear loyalty to President Xi Jinping and criticise or renounce their faith.

In August, China denied allegations that it had locked up a million people.

But officials attending the UN human rights meeting admitted that Uighurs "deceived by religious extremism" were undergoing re-education and resettlement.

Xinjiang has seen cycles of violence and crackdowns for years. China accuses Islamist militants and separatists of orchestrating the trouble.

Xinjiang's new legislation says examples of behaviour that could lead to detention include forcing others to take part in religious activities, refusing to watch state TV and listen to state radio and preventing children from receiving state education.

It says its network of detention centres also aim to provide vocational training.

Rights groups have criticised the move.

Sophie Richardson from Human Rights Watch said the "words on paper outlining grotesque, vast human rights abuses don't deserve the term 'law'".

Former prisoners of the camps have told the BBC of physical as well as psychological torture there. Entire families had disappeared, they said.

The New York Times quoted former detainees as saying that they were forced to sing songs such as "Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China" and those who could not remember the words were not given breakfast.

"In the end, all the officials had one key point. The greatness of the Chinese Communist Party, the backwardness of Uighur culture and the advanced nature of Chinese culture," former detainee Abdusalam Muhemet told the newspaper.

Who are the Uighurs?

The Uighurs are ethnically Turkic Muslims mostly based in Xinjiang. They make up about 45% of the population there.

Xinjiang is officially designated as an autonomous region within China, like Tibet to its south.

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Media captionJohn Sudworth reports from Xinjiang, where all filming and reporting by foreign media is tightly controlled

Reports that more and more Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are being detained in Xinjiang have been circulating for some months.

Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch submitted reports to the UN Human Rights Committee documenting claims of mass imprisonment.

The World Uyghur Congress said in its report that detainees were held indefinitely without charge, and forced to shout Communist Party slogans.

It said they were poorly fed, and reports of torture were widespread.

Most inmates have never been charged with a crime, it is claimed, and do not receive legal representation.

However China's state-run English-language Global Times newspaper has said the tough security measures in the region have prevented it from turning into "China's Syria" or "China's Libya".