Brainwashing camps are ‘tip of the iceberg’, believes Release International, as Hong Kong eyes religious persecution and votes for freedom

Brainwash camps exposed in China

The overwhelming pro-democracy vote in Hong Kong and revelations of brainwashing camps highlight growing intolerance in China towards religious minorities.

It’s not just the Uyghur Muslims who are facing a crackdown. Reports from China indicate Christians are facing the worst persecution since the Cultural Revolution, say partners of Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world.

Tonight’s Panorama programme on BBC1 (Nov 25) will expose leaked documents revealing the systematic brainwashing of hundreds of thousands of Muslims rounded up in a network of high-security prison camps.

China claims the camps are for voluntary re-education and training. But the documents reveal a brainwashing regime that has been likened to the Nazis, where detainees are controlled with iron discipline and kept in order with electric shock batons.

According to the BBC, about a million mainly Muslim Uyghurs have been detained without trial.

‘Tip of iceberg’

‘But partners of Release International believe that could just be the tip of the iceberg,’ warns Release CEO Paul Robinson.

According to Release partner Bob Fu: ‘In China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, between 1-3 million people from Turkic minority groups have been rounded up and imprisoned in internment camps. Camp survivors have reported starvation, forced labour and torture.

‘If a child’s parents have been taken to the camps, then the child is placed in an orphanage and forced to speak Mandarin instead of their native language, effectively erasing their identity.’

A leaked Communist Party memo shows that far from being places of ‘voluntary retraining,’ China’s internment camps are designed to break the will of detainees and control their minds.

Human Rights Watch describe them as places of ‘psychological torture’. The leaked memo calls for ‘discipline and punishment… repentance and confession and full video surveillance.’

Electric shock

One former inmate described being struck with an electric shock baton for spending more than the prescribed two minutes in the toilet – and then having to thank her abuser for her corrective discipline.

Leading human rights lawyer Ben Emmerson told the BBC the camps were designed for ‘mass brainwashing… directed at an entire ethnic community… to wipe the Muslim Uyghurs of Xinjiang as a separate cultural group off the face of the Earth.’

Although the media spotlight is on China’s treatment of Muslims, the authorities are also cracking down on Christians.

‘Persecution has been rising since 2018, when China imposed tough new religious restrictions,’ says Release CEO Paul Robinson. ‘Freedom of faith is guaranteed under Article 36 of the Chinese constitution. But in practice, the authorities bulldoze churches, tear down crosses and imprison pastors. Lawyers who speak up for them in the courts simply disappear. And it’s getting worse.

‘It used to be just the unofficial churches that were targeted, today China is pulling down state-registered churches and persecuting their pastors.

Ban on prayer meetings

‘The authorities have banned Christians from holding prayer meetings in their homes. Hosts risk having their houses demolished or taken from them. China has also banned Christians from sharing religious messages with anyone under 18.’

In July, officials raided a church in China’s southern Guizhou province. When churchgoers asked what law they were supposed to have broken, they were told: ‘It is illegal for you to teach your children to sing hymns and to spread [Christian] thoughts.’

And in echoes of the all-pervading video surveillance in the Uyghur camps, China is installing face-recognition cameras in churches to spy on congregations and preachers.

‘Is it any wonder the people of Hong Kong have just voted overwhelmingly for democracy?’ asks Paul Robinson. ‘When Hong Kong residents look at mainland China they fear they are seeing into their future. Release International is pressing China to repeal its anti-religion laws and grant freedom of faith for all its people.’

Through its international network of missions Release International is active in more than 30 countries around the world, supporting pastors, Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.