Winter is coming, and farmers in this Uyghur village are busy cutting branches pruned from walnut trees for firewood. The wood is fuel for small metal stoves that heat their mud-and-brick homes.
Other villagers are washing the coarse wool rugs they use to cover their floors and hang on walls as insulation against the cold. Much work remains to be done. There are red dates to harvest, and maize to dry and store. But as chilly winds sweep this dusty village of some 400 households on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert in China’s far western region of Xinjiang, a noticeable shortage of hands is causing many families to struggle.
“My older brother is in training prison,” one villager says, watching her toddler play under a grape trellis in the courtyard of her traditional Uyghur home. “My sister is in a training prison, too,” she adds quietly, as sheep bleat in the adjacent manger.
“It is very difficult for us,” she says. With her older siblings gone, her elderly father took a job as a security guard at a local factory to support the remaining eight family members, including her disabled mother, with an income of about 1,500 yuan ($216) a month.
The family’s situation is disturbingly common. An informal survey of two dozen families in the village reveals a chilling fact: Half of them are missing a family member – usually the head of household – who has been detained, indefinitely, in what the villagers here refer to as “training prison,” or simply “training.”
The high ratio of detentions uncovered in the village, while only one data point, offers further firsthand confirmation that China’s program of mass incarceration of ethnic Uyghurs in political education camps in Xinjiang has swept up vast numbers of people in recent years. Experts and human rights groups estimate that as many as 1 million of the total Uyghur population of 11 million have been forced to undergo “reeducation” in the most serious assault by Chinese authorities on Muslim minorities since the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT The Christian Science Monitor