'We Must Exercise Firm Control over Religious Believers'
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An audio transcript of a May 2017 meeting chaired by China’s top Communist Party official in the country’s western Xinjiang territory published on Tuesday reveals the regional chief urged Xinjiang officials to “exercise firm control over the religious community,” referring to the largely Sunni Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uyghur ethnic minority in Xinjiang.

Chen Quanguo, who served as Communist Party Secretary of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region from 2016 to 2021, told attendees of a regional maintenance meeting on May 28, 2017, that they “must continue to exercise firm control over the religious community. Religious people must carry out their religious activities according to the law, and this is a good test of their patriotism and love for their religion at this time.”

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, in coordination with researcher Adrian Zenz, obtained and translated the transcript of Chen’s 2017 meeting as part of its “Xinjiang Police Files,” which are a series of leaked documents from Xinjiang law enforcement officials regarding their policies toward Uyghurs in recent years.

KASHGAR, CHINA - JUNE 28: An ethnic Uyghur man holds his grandson as he sits outside his house in an area waiting development by authorities on June 28, 2017 in the old town of Kashgar, in the far western Xinjiang province, China. Kashgar has long been considered the cultural heart of Xinjiang for the province's nearly 10 million Muslim Uyghurs. At an historic crossroads linking China to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, the city has changed under Chinese rule with government development, unofficial Han Chinese settlement to the western province, and restrictions imposed by the Communist Party. Beijing says it regards Kashgar's development as an improvement to the local economy, but many Uyghurs consider it a threat that is eroding their language, traditions, and cultural identity. The friction has fueled a separatist movement that has sometimes turned violent, triggering a crackdown on what China's government considers 'terrorist acts' by religious extremists. Tension has increased with stepped up security in the city and the enforcement of measures including restrictions at mosques. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

An ethnic Uyghur man holds his grandson in the old town of Kashgar, in the far western Xinjiang province, China. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation describes the “Xinjiang Police Files” as:

A major cache of speeches, images, documents and spreadsheets obtained by a third party from confidential internal police networks. They provide a groundbreaking inside view of the nature and scale of Beijing’s secretive campaign of interning between 1-2 million Uyghurs and other ethnic citizens in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.

URUMQI, CHINA - JULY 07: Chinese policemen push Uighur women who are protesting at a street on July 7, 2009 in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, China. Hundreds of Uighur people have taken to the streets protesting after their relatives were detained by authorities after Sunday's protest. Ethnic riots in the capital of the Muslim Xinjiang region on Sunday saw 156 people killed. Police officers, soldiers and firefighters were dispatched to contain the rioting with hundreds of people being detained. (Photo by Guang Niu/Getty Images)

Chinese policemen push Uighur women who are protesting at a street in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, China. (Guang Niu/Getty Images)

China’s ruling Communist Party has funneled Uyghurs and other Xinjiang ethnic minorities, such as Kazakhs and Kyrgyz people, into state-run facilities its calls “vocational education and training” centers – concentration camps – since about 2017. The centers ostensibly aim to “educate” Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities in the Mandarin language and Han Chinese culture, in addition to promoting the policies of China’s officially atheist ruling Communist Party. The Party tolerates the practice of five religions in China: Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese Catholicism (not run by the Vatican), and a Beijing-approved form of Christianity called the “Three-Self Church.” China’s government persecutes adherents of these faiths despite their official recognition by Beijing, such as in the case of Xinjiang’s largely Sunni Muslim Uyghurs.

The U.S. State Department observed the following about the mention of religion within China’s constitution in 2019:

The constitution, which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, states that citizens have freedom of religious belief but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” and does not define “normal.”

Despite Chairman Xi Jinping’s decree that all members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) must be “unyielding Marxist atheists,” the government continued to exercise control over religion and restrict the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents that it perceived as threatening state or CCP interests.

The U.S. State Department in January 2021 designated the Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang since 2017 as “genocide.”

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