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China, Xinjiang: Chinese policy that makes Uighurs feel like hostages in their homes




Her four “guests” are Chinese government cadres who lived in her house for 10 days each month for two years before her family left, she said.

“We have to pretend we are happy,” Dawut explained from Washington DC, where she lives in exile.

“If we do not do this, the government will conclude that we are against their ‘relatives’ policy.’

Ujghur Zumrat Dawut, second from the left, says she received four staff members during each 10-day visit - she and her four children were assigned one person each.
China introduced the policy of its relatives – part of the “ethnic unity campaign” – in 2016, ostensibly to promote national harmony. Since then, more than 1.1 million cadres have visited the homes of 1.6 million people of different ethnic groups in Xinjiang, according to a “fact check” published by the Chinese state news agency Xinhua in February.

It is part of a broader crackdown on Uighurs and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang that the U.S. and other nations have called “genocide,” a charge that China angrily angers.

The rosy images of the much-promoted home stay program in the Chinese state media describe politics as a mix of community service and education.

Videos and social media posts on official accounts show families and hospitable cadres warmly greeting each other as “relatives,” cooking meals together, and even sharing beds at night.

But according to some people who fled the Xinjiang region when it comes to the home stay program, the hosts are actually hostages.

Collection of information

Under the stay-at-home policy, the cadres were sent to live, work and sleep with families in Xinjiang for a few days at any time, every one or two months, the former residents said.

Because each person at Dawut’s home was assigned an official “relative,” including children, she said she had to wait for four officials at her home each visit. “Because my husband is a foreign national, they did not force him to mate with a relative, but me and three of our children all had one relative each,” she said.

Dawut said her assigned cadre followed her around the house, asking questions and taking notes from which she feared she might see her incarcerated in China’s vast network of detention centers.

She was so scared that her children might inadvertently say something wrong that she trained them to give the “right” answers. “If they ask you,” does your mother pray? “Say no.” Does your father pray? “Say no. Do you believe in Islam? Do you have the Qur’an? Do you have a prayer rug?” Say no to them, “she said.

During their visits, the staff share meals with the family and get to know the children at home.  Zumrat Dawut blurred the faces of these children before providing this image on CNN.
The Chinese government has summoned Dawut an actress and a liar, the labels he gave to other Uighurs living in exile who shared their stories of trauma in Xinjiang.
However, their claims are supported by evidence mounted by Xinjiang, where US estimates up to two million Muslim minorities have passed through Chinese detention centers.
In January, the U.S. State Department accused China of genocide, saying “exhaustive documentation“had confirmed that local authorities in Xinjiang had” dramatically escalated “their campaign against minorities since” at least March 2017 “.
Parliaments in Canada, Netherlands AND uk reached the same conclusion.

The Chinese government insists the camps are “vocational training centers” aimed at alleviating poverty and combating religious extremism.

Rian Thum, a senior researcher at the University of Nottingham who specializes in Uighur history, said the home stay program is an important part of China’s Xinjiang campaign.

He said images posted on social media suggest the visits were taking place recently like this February, during Chinese New Year. “Hanging lanterns for Chinese New Year is not something most Uighurs attend. But then, all the people of the city had to decorate the interior of their homes along with Chinese Hananite traditions,” he said. “So this is it, this is going on a lot.”

An uninvited guest

A former teacher in an internment camp, Qelbinur Sidik, said she was ordered to host her first cadre in May 2017.

The “relative” was her husband’s boss at a state-owned factory, she said. Initially, he came once every three months, but by the end of that year, he stayed at her house for a week each month.

“He wanted me to sit down with him, to drink wine with him. I begged him not to force me,” she said from the Netherlands.

“When he was drunk, he wanted me to sleep with him.”

The Uyghur exile Qelbinur Sidik says she received her first order to host a cadre in May 2017.
Human Rights Watch has previously documented cases of sending male cadres to stay in homes occupied by women and children, an arrangement that makes them vulnerable to sexual violence.

Sidik says the man hugged her, but he did not push her further.

She thinks this is because her husband was there, though she added that many Uighur men had been arrested, leaving the women at home only to deal with the stranger in their home.

Separation of meals and beds

In December 2017, the initiative took place with “Becoming a relative week”, when staff of all levels and departments were sent to Xinjiang to live, work and learn “with the masses”, according to state media.

He promoted the program with two numerical slogans: “four together” – who are “eat together, live together, study together, work together” and “three submissions”, under which cadres “send laws, send policies, send warmth “.

That month, the cadres took over selfie with laughing families which were later posted online. An image shows two women in bed with a female hostess. “The cadres of the Communist Youth League from the Tekes county live with relatives in the warm room, taking a selfie before bed,” the caption reads.
A photo posted online in 2017 shows two women in bed with a female hostess.

In a report aired on state television in January 2018, a woman named Aymgul Hesan thanked her official guest saying, “I hope we can be ‘relatives’ for the rest of our lives.”

Months later, in a separate television report, an official named He Jingjing was filmed showing a little boy how to wash his hands.

“I taught the children to brush their faces and brush their teeth,” she explains. “I brought the concept of modern life here so that they can live a better and more civilized life.”

Timothy Grose, professor of Chinese Studies and ethnic policy expert at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, said official documents suggest the cadres are not just there to teach locals to be “more civilized”.

“As you go through the official documents, it becomes increasingly clear that these are in fact programs for collecting and overseeing human intelligence,” he said.

Grose recounts a working manual for the “ethnic unity campaign” published by the Kashgar prefecture government in 2018. The manual was first leaked online by Darren Byler, an American academic who has done extensive field work in Xinjiang.

The manual instructs cadres to preach anti-terrorism and anti-extremism laws to their host families and also shows them how to distinguish possible signs of extremist activity.

In a segment entitled “How to troubleshoot?” officials are required to look for strangers in homes and parked cars that do not belong to the family. “Do they hang religious objects in the house?” the manual is read. “Ask children questions when they play with them, because children will not lie.”

“There is a kind of ethno-racial component as the Uighur family is seen as backward,” said Byler, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Asian Studies at the University of Colorado. “This is how it is described in Chinese state discourse and popular discourse.”

“From the point of view of the relatives of those relatives, it was very clear that these people sent to their homes were there to monitor them, that they were spying on them, that they were making sure to follow the rules,” he added.

CNN sent written requests to the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Xinjiang government asking why the manual detailed instructions on supervising host families. CNN received no response.

“Relatives” fun

Nyrola Elima, an ethnic Uighur from Xinjiang’s Ghulja County, says she grew up proud to be a citizen of China. Above all, she points out, her grandparents were members of the Chinese Communist Party.

But that changed in 2018, when she says her cousin went missing in an internment camp.

About that time, she said she was also shocked to learn that her parents were expecting Chinese officials at her childhood home. “A stranger sleeping in your house. How can you feel safe about that?” Elima said from Sweden where she is a naturalized citizen.

Elima said she learned about unwanted guests during a phone call with her mother in Xinjiang in 2018. “My mother just told me ‘we have relatives at home, it’s not appropriate. I will contact you tomorrow,'” Elima recalled. .

Elima later learned from contacts still in Xinjiang that these “relatives” were Han Chinese ethnic officials.

“I understand the Han Chinese come to our house as a friend, but that should happen when we invite them,” Elima said. “I do not think anyone is happy with this. We do not do this in Sweden. We have never done this in China.”

Thum, from the University of Nottingham, says the program is a “combined indoctrination and monitoring project”.

He argues that home stays remove the last piece of privacy left in the homes of Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. “They live in fear, under the system in which they are subject to political judgment in every aspect of their home,” Thum said.

Grose, from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, said the hilarious selfies with the families published in the Chinese state media hide a dark truth.

“These stays at home are part of this wider and very violent effort to cultivate and assimilate Uyghurs and they go hand in hand with mass imprisonment,” he said.

The Uyghur exile Zumrat Dawut says that her assigned cadre would follow her around the house.

Dawut said if the Chinese government really wanted to promote friendship between ethnic groups, it has failed.

“All Uighurs are so fed up with their Chinese relatives,” she said. “Two completely different ethnicities are forced to live in the same house, whether that house is big or small.

“Forced to sleep together, eat together and forced to think alike together. Extremely extremely crazy.”

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