Authorities in northwest Chinaâ€™s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are preparing local residents for visits with outside â€œinspectorsâ€ by ordering them to disavow knowledge of â€œfamily planningâ€ policies targeting Uyghurs that a recent report equated to genocide, according to sources.
RFAâ€™s Uyghur Service recently received information from an anonymous source who said that authorities inÂ Suydung (Shuiding) township, in Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefectureâ€™s Qorghas (Huocheng) county, have been holding meetings over the past two weeks to warn residents that people may be visiting the area to inquire about birth control policies.
According to the source, who has knowledge of the region and declined to provide their name for fear of reprisal, police personnel are warning residents in the meetings that they risk fines and even detention in an internment camp for giving â€œincorrectâ€ responses to the visiting inspectors, who may include both Chinese nationals and foreigners.
The meetings appear to have begun shortly after Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow in China Studies at the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, published a report in collaboration with the Associated Press in June detailing a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of forced sterilizations and abortions targeting Uyghurs in region.
In his report, Zenz concludes such policies may amount to a government-led campaign of genocide according to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
They also come as Chinaâ€™s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin addressed a question during a regular press briefing in Beijing about Franceâ€™s recent condemnation of the mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR, and its demand that independent rights observers be granted access to the region to investigate claims of abuses there.
â€œWe welcome those with a truly objective and fair attitude to visit Xinjiang and see for themselves the real situation and avoid being blinded by these rumors and slanders,â€ he said, dismissing reports that authorities in the region have held some 1.8 million people in a vast network of internment camps since April 2017.
RFA recently spoke with an officer from the Suydung Township Police Station who confirmed that a colleague was in charge of the preparatory work related to the inspections, and that predominantly Uyghur â€œassistant police officers are undertaking this work in the villages.â€
When asked what residents are being instructed to say to inspectors, the officer said he did not know and referred further questions to those in charge of the meetings.
Ordered to change topic
RFA also spoke with a neighborhood committee chief in Suydung township who provided more information about the meetings, which he said he regularly takes part in.
â€œThe meetings are being held in residentsâ€™ homes, one after the otherâ€”between 15 and 35 people attend each meeting,â€ he said.
â€œTheyâ€™re teaching people that if inspectors come, [the residents] should answer questions very conscientiously and not say things like â€˜we donâ€™t know.â€™ And theyâ€™re also saying that the inspectors will make unannounced visits at their own discretion, so everyone needs to be prepared in their thinking.â€
The committee chief said inspectors will come â€œat different times,â€ and that higher-level authorities had not provided specific dates or explained where they are coming from, â€œonly that theyâ€™re definitely coming.â€
â€œThey said that we should say the birth control policy is good, but that we shouldnâ€™t give really detailed answers,â€ he said.
â€œThey said to say â€˜noâ€™ if asked whether [residents] had IUDs (intrauterine devices) inserted.â€
Instead, residents should â€œtalk at lengthâ€ about topics such as free health checks, home construction, and social security.
â€œThey told us we can take up all [the inspectorâ€™s] time to talk with us if we talk more about the subsidies weâ€™ve received from them,â€ he said.
The committee chief said if asked about detained family members, residents shouldnâ€™t say they donâ€™t know why they were interned or where they are.
â€œThey said we should say the government would never have detained them if they hadnâ€™t done something wrong, so they detained them because they made mistakes,â€ he said.
â€œWe should say theyâ€™re getting a good education, that itâ€™s good theyâ€™re being educated, and that they had religious extremist ideas.â€
China in 2019 organized two visits to monitor internment camps in the XUARâ€”one for a small group of foreign journalists, and another for diplomats from non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and Thailandâ€”during which officials dismissed claims about mistreatment and poor conditions in the facilities as â€œslanderous lies.â€
During the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan told the gathering that these trips and the China-friendly accounts they produced were â€œPotemkin tours in a failed attempt to proveâ€ that the camps were humane training centers.
Reporting by RFAâ€™s Uyghur Service and other media organizations has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
In July last year, after Chinaâ€™s ambassador to the U.N. invited its human rights czar Michelle Bachelet to visit the XUAR to â€œsee for herselfâ€ what he called â€œeducation training centersâ€ in the region, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) told RFA that she would not accept unless given access to the camps on her own terms.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFAâ€™s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.