Xinjiang’s state media tour reveals hidden horrors

Behind the scenes of Beijing’s propaganda push where Muslims were ‘jailed’ and forced ‘to renounce Islam’

Albanian Canadian scholar Olsi Jazexhi seemed to be the perfect foreign writer for China to invite to Xinjiang. The westernmost province is home to the ethnic Uyghur Muslim minority so mistreated by Beijing that its critics have called it cultural genocide.

“My initial intention was to visit Xinjiang to investigate and to prove the West wrong,” Jazexhi, told Voice of America.

During an interview for a journalist visa at the Chinese Embassy in the Albanian capital of Tirana in 2019, he said he told the consular official:

I want to produce a story where I can show the world that all this talk about the Uyghur is in a way orchestrated, and by people in the West. And there is nothing true about it.

Since 2018, Beijing has invited diplomats, journalists, and writers like Jazexhi on controlled tours of western Xinjiang province as part of its efforts to tell the world that all is well.

They were rolled out despite what the United States called China’s possible crimes against humanity committed against the Uyghurs.

‘Fake news’

Chinese state media has reported that more than 1,200 people from 100 countries and regions, including officials from international organizations, diplomats, journalists and religious leaders, have visited Xinjiang from the end of 2018 to February 2021.

It often quotes those who go on the tours as they extol what is presented to them as the region’s economic development and religious freedom.

At the same time, attacking the Western press and governments for “peddling disinformation” and publishing “fake news” about re-education camps, where Uyghurs are tortured and forced to abandon their religious and cultural practices.

Posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping appear in mosques. Photo: Wikimedia

Jazexhi should have been one of them.

The Chinese government took him and 19 other writers, mainly from Muslim countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, on an all-expenses paid, 10-day trip in Xinjiang to visit factories and farms.

Ilshat Hassan Kokbore, the director of China affairs at the rights group World Uyghur Congress, told VOA:

[Beijing invites foreign media to ensure] they will only see the singing and dancing performances of Uyghurs on the stage, but not the blood and tears of Uyghurs struggling in concentration camps and prisons.

But in China’s effort to dismiss the allegations of abuse, they also took Jazexhi’s group to what they called a “vocational training center,” where ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Uzbeks were not allowed to leave and told him they were taken there for practicing Islam.

Xi posters

“So what the Chinese government was doing, it was jailing these people. And in this, the vocational centers there were forcing them to renounce Islam,” he said.

Jazexhi said the group also saw posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping in mosques in Aksu and Kashgar, which violate Islamic precepts against images of idolatry. While in Urumqi, they saw a mosque converted into a shopping mall.

Jazexhi pointed out that he was not the only Muslim in his group, which included Turkish and Arab reporters, who were shocked. But he was the only one who condemned the detention conditions, while others told the outside world there were no rights violations in Xinjiang.

Jazexhi told VOA several Arabs in his group told him they would not publish stories about what they saw because it could create a diplomatic crisis between their countries and China.

Uyghur detainees in a Xinjiang internment camp in 2017. Photo: Wikimedia

He said that after he complained about the treatment to Chinese authorities, they called him a “fake journalist” and interrogated him as a suspected intelligence agent before he was released.

VOA was unable to independently confirm Jazexhi’s account of the trip, which he told to media and published on his YouTube channel.

Liu Pengyu, the spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, denied that any so-called “re-education camps” exist in Xinjiang. 

In an email response to VOA, Liu called the vocational education and training centers in Xinjiang schools that are “no different from the Desistance and Disengagement Program of the United Kingdom, or the de-radicalization centers in France.”

“All trainees at the vocational education and training centers have completed their training, secured stable employment in the society and are living a normal life,” Liu said in 2019.

‘Distorting facts’

He then denounced “anti-China forces in the West, including the United States,” for “fabricating and spreading a large amount of groundless disinformation about Xinjiang by distorting facts to smear China’s image.”

Liu also said he “welcomed interested foreign friends to visit Xinjiang to see with their own eyes all the changes and development that are truly happening there.”

Olsi Jazexhi now teaches history and civilization courses at the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

Stella Hsu is a producer at Voice of America. Adrianna Zhang also contributed to this report.

This article is republished courtesy of Voice of America. Read the original article here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.