The NGO Human Right Watch (HRW) has assured Wednesday that the Chinese government would have detained more than 540,000 people in the Uyghur-majority Xinjiang region since 2017, while accusing China of not disclosing the exact number of people imprisoned.
The organization has detailed that, “while not all convicted prisoners face political charges,” available figures indicate that the total number of people “unjustly” imprisoned in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is “much higher than generally reported.”
“The Chinese government may have hoped that by formally prosecuting people in Xinjiang, it would avoid the prominence of mass detentions in extralegal political education camps,” said HRW China researcher Maya Wang.
“Many of these convictions simply add up to crimes against humanity and unjust imprisonment against Uighurs and other Turkic peoples,” she added.
Xinjiang authorities initiated a Hard Strike Campaign against Violent Terrorism in 2014, but significantly intensified it in 2017. Previously, statistics from the Xinjiang Higher People’s Court put the total number of people sentenced between 2017 and 2018 at 232,524, a figure widely reported in 2019, according to the NGO.
Since then, the Xinjiang Higher People’s Court has not released new official sentencing figures.
However, the Xinjiang Higher People’s Procuratorate, which continues to publish statistics, reported in February 2022 that a total of 540,826 people have been prosecuted in the region since 2017.
HRW has argued that, given China’s conviction rate of over 99.9 percent, nearly all of these 540,826 people would have been convicted.
Also, “the available evidence,” according to the NGO, suggests that “the vast majority” of the 540,826 people prosecuted are likely to remain in prison.
According to official statistics from the Xinjiang Higher People’s Court, prior to 2017, about 10.8 percent of those sentenced received prison sentences of more than five years. In 2017, they accounted for 87 percent of the sentences, as collected by the organization.
For this reason, HRW has urged the international community to “strengthen its efforts” to investigate and hold Chinese officials accountable for committing crimes against humanity.
On August 31, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report corroborating arbitrary mass detention, torture, cultural persecution, forced labor, and other serious human rights violations documented by human rights groups in Xinjiang.
The high commissioner’s report notes that the Chinese government’s conduct in the region may constitute international crimes, “in particular crimes against humanity,” as recalled by HRW.