More than 100 Christians have been sent to ‘re-education’ camps in China’s north-western Xinjiang province over the past few months according to Open Doors sources. These ‘mind-transformation centres’ teach citizens to be loyal to the communist ideology.
Most of those detained are from the Uyghur ethnic minority group and have a Muslim background. In recent years the Uyghurs they have been the prime targets of the government’s ‘anti-terror’ campaign, aimed at cracking down on both separatist groups and militant Islamists. Uyghur people who have converted to Christianity have also been caught up in the crackdown.
When you’re sent to the camps you don’t know how long you’ll stay. A local church member said, “Some stay there for a month, others for half a year or even longer.”
The leader of a community of Christians from a Muslim background was taken to a ‘re-education’ camp. His wife has not heard from him since. She said, “I don’t know where my husband is right now, but I believe that God still uses him in prisons or camps. Sometimes I am worried that he doesn’t have enough clothes to keep warm in the prison.”
“I am afraid it will affect my children,” said another Christian. “The teacher in the school is paying special attention to my children after the authorities told the school about my husband.” The woman now devoted her time to supporting others, like her, whose family have been sent to re-education camps.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that Xinjiang is the most intensely surveilled area in the world. There are police stations on every corner and surveillance cameras everywhere. To live in this region means being monitored every day. “Even your smartphone is checked,” said one Christian. “I feel like I live in a big prison.”
Government-registered churches are also required to scan ID cards when they come to Sunday services. An alarm will sound if anyone works for the government or a public institution. Many Christians have stopped going to registered churches and instead meet in smaller secret groups.
In February last year Xinjiang’s authorities banned all Christian activities not linked to state-approved churches, in what it said were ‘anti-terror’ moves.
There are around 20 million Muslims in China, most of them belonging to the Hui and Uyghur ethnic groups. Only a few thousand Christians are from a Muslim background. The majority live in the remote Xinjiang province. They experience pressure from the authorities as well as discrimination from their families and communities.
China is number 43 on the Open Doors World Watch List. In China if churches get too large or too political, they are seen as a threat and persecuted. Communist authorities are increasing restrictions on Christians in order to control society and stay in power. House churches are pushed to join the state-controlled Three Self Churches, and new regulations on religion limit freedom. For Christians from a Muslim or a Tibetan Buddhist background, conversion is more than just changing religion, it is betraying a community. They are threatened, attacked and reported to the local authorities.