Uyghur children play while their relatives rest outside their house, decorated with Chinese lanterns and barbed wire, at a complex in Hotan, Sept. 20, 2018.
Male Han Chinese “relatives” assigned to monitor the homes of Uyghur families in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) regularly sleep in the same beds as the wives of men detained in the region’s internment camps, according to sources who have overseen the forced stayovers.
Since late 2017, Muslim—and particularly Uyghur—families in the XUAR have been required to invite officials into their homes and provide them with information about their lives and political views, while hosts are also subjected to political indoctrination.
The “Pair Up and Become Family” program is one of several repressive policies targeting Uyghurs in the region, which have also seen the build out of a vast network of camps, where authorities have held up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.
RFA’s Uyghur Service recently spoke about the program with a ruling Communist Party cadre in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture’s Yengisar (Yingjisha) county, who said that 70 to 80 families in the township he oversees have Chinese, mostly male, “relatives” that stay for up to six days at each household—many of which have male family members in detention.
“The ‘relatives’ come to visit us here every two months … they stay with their paired relatives day and night,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They help [the families] with their ideology, bringing new ideas. They talk to them about life, during which time they develop feelings for one another.”
In addition to working and eating together, over the course of the week that they spend with their Uyghur hosts the officials even sleep in the same bed as family members, the cadre said, particularly during the winter.
“Normally one or two people sleep in one bed, and if the weather is cold, three people sleep together,” he said.
When asked whether any families have spoken out against male officials staying at their homes, particularly in situations where no male family members are present because they have been detained in camps, the cadre said that on the contrary, “they are very keen, and offer them whatever they have.”
“We also try to help them to make proper [sleeping] arrangements,” he said.
Reports suggest that Uyghurs who protest hosting “relatives” as part of the Pair Up and Become Family program, or refuse to take part in study sessions or other activities with the officials in their homes, are subject to additional restrictions or could face detention in the camp system.
According to the cadre, if a household does not have a bed, family members and “relatives” all sleep on the same sleeping platform, with a small amount of space between one another.
“If the width of the room is three meters (10 feet), the platform tends to be approximately two and half meters (eight feet),” he said.
“If everyone can fit, they all sleep there.”
The cadre said he had “never heard” of any situations in which male officials had attempted to take advantage of female members of the households they stayed in, and suggested “it is now considered normal for females to sleep on the same platform with their paired male ‘relatives.’”
The head of a local neighborhood committee in Yengisar county, who also declined to be named, confirmed that male officials regularly sleep in the same beds or sleeping platforms with female members of Uyghur households during their home stays.
“Yes, they all sleep on the same platform,” the committee chief said, adding that it is considered acceptable for “relatives” and hosts to keep a distance of one meter (three feet) between them at night.
No women have complained about the situation of co-sleeping, he said, and local officials have promoted the practice as a means by which to “promote ethnic unity.”
According to New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), in December 2017, authorities greatly expanded the October 2016 Pair Up and Become Family drive—which saw more than 100,000 officials visit mostly Uyghur homes in southern XUAR every two months—to mobilize more than a million cadres to spend a week living in homes, primarily in rural areas.
The “home stay” program was extended in early 2018 and cadres now spend at least five days every two months in the families’ homes, HRW said, adding that “there is no evidence to suggest that families can refuse such visits.”
Activities that take place during visits are documented in reports with accompanying photos—many of which can be found on the social media accounts of participating agencies—and show scenes of “relatives” involved in intimate aspects of domestic life, such as making beds and sleeping together, sharing meals, and feeding and tutoring children. There is no indication the families have consented to posting these images online.
HRW has called the home stays an example of “deeply invasive forced assimilation practices” and said they “not only violate basic rights, but are also likely to foster and deepen resentment in the region.”
Dolkun Isa, the president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress exile group, has said the “Pair Up and Become Family” campaign represents the “total annihilation of the safety, security and well-being of family members,” and that the program has “turned Uyghurs’ homes into prisons from which there is no escape.”
In July RFA spoke with a township and a village secretary in Hotan (Hetian) prefecture who both said that when “relatives” stay with their families to teach them the Chinese language and extol the virtues of Beijing’s policies in the region—often for around one week—they bring alcohol and meat that includes pork, and expect family members to consume them, against the principles of “halal” that govern what Muslims can eat and drink.
“We are not so insane as to tell them that we are Muslim, so we cannot eat the things they eat,” the secretary said at the time.