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China sentences Uighur Muslims in 'sham trials' for 'praying, wearing a headscarf, having a passport' Open in fullscreen

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China sentences Uighur Muslims in 'sham trials' for 'praying, wearing a headscarf, having a passport'

More than one million Muslim minorities are detained in prisons and camps in China [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 June, 2020

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Detainees are forced to pick from a list of crimes including praying, wearing a headscarf, and traveling abroad, a new report has said.
Many Uighur Muslims imprisoned in China's vast network of detention camps have been convicted of crimes such as travelling abroad or praying in sham trials, a new report has alleged.

Prisoners in China's northwestern Xinjiang province were forced to pick from a list of crimes - including so-called infractions such as possessing a passport, wearing a headscarf and praying - and face a trial without legal representation or evidence, four former detainees told Deutsche Welle (DW).

More than one million people, most of them Muslims of the Uighur ethnic minority, are detained in camps throughout Xinjiang.

Beijing claims the camps are voluntary re-education facilities designed to provide vocational training and guide residents away from ethnic separatist and Islamic extremist ideologie.

Human rights organisations and Western governments say detainees are held against their will and subject to a number of abuses inside the camps, including torture and forced labour.


A report published by DW on Monday alleges that many of the detainees have been forced to retroactively decide the "crimes" for which they were imprisoned.

Four people who spent months detained in the camps in 2017 and 2018 told the German government-funded broadcaster that they were forced to choose from a list of crimes.

After picking a crime or several, they were then convicted in a sham trial without legal representation or due process.

Many of the infractions on the list of more than 70 so-called crimes were seemingly harmless, including traveling or speaking to people abroad.

Others came clearly as part of Chinese government targeting of Islamic practices in the Muslim-majority Xinjiang region, such as praying or wearing the hijab.

The list appeared to be based on a list published in 2014. That list was circulated around Xinjiang and listed "extreme religious acts", including "inciting jihad" and "distributing religious propaganda material", but also giving up smoking or drinking.

"They threatened us: 'if you don't pick anything, that means you did not confess your crime. If you don't confess, you will stay here forever'. That's why we picked one crime," a woman detained in March 2018 told DW.

Read more: How coronavirus presented China with a dream opportunity for surveillance

Another former detainee said the list came with the hope of leaving the camp eventually: "To be honest, we were happy - at least we now knew the time period we would spend in the camp. Before that, no one told us how long we had to stay."


One of the former detainees described how, a few days after being forced to pick an infraction from the list, she was sentenced without a trial.

"I was given 2 years for traveling abroad. I started feeling very sad, but still, compared to other people, my sentence was the lightest. Some people were given six years, 10 years even," she said.

The longer sentences were generally given for religious acts, such as praying regularly.

Another detainee was given a trial but there were "no lawyers" and five or six people were tried at a time. After being told their sentence, detainees had to say "I promise I won't repeat my wrongdoings", she said.

The nature of the sham trials appears to differ from camp to camp, with some being tried in the presence of their relatives or one-by-one.

Although it is impossible to determine how widespread the practice is, DW was able to confirm sham trials taking place in at least three camps in Xinjiang.

Those handed down longer sentences for religious acts were taken away not long after the sham trials, the former detainees said. It is unclear where they were taken.

Others were sent to labour camps or put under house arrest.

One detainee put under house arrest was forced to host different Communist Party members at her home, while also attending a flag-raising ceremony, party meetings, and Chinese-language classes every day.


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