Stephen McDonell, BBC’s China correspondent, moments before his broadcast was pulled from the air in China. Picture: Stephen McDonell,
Stephen McDonell, BBC’s China correspondent, moments before his broadcast was pulled from the air in China. Picture: Stephen McDonell,

China suddenly cuts news broadcast

Last week, the BBC's World Service Newsday program suddenly went black for Chinese viewers. Its China correspondent Stephen McDonell had dared to mention Beijing's imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province.

McDonell started off in officially-sanctioned ground. He was discussing the visit to China by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

But, then, he mentioned the elephant in the room.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before proceeding to their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Picture: AP
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before proceeding to their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Picture: AP

McDonell speculated if the prince of the wealthy Islamic nation would raise the plight of his fellow believers - currently undergoing compulsory 're-education' in 'Chinese values' - in detention camps.

It was an issue certainly falling under the category of 'current affairs'.

Earlier in February, Turkey - also a primarily Muslim nation - made an international call for the closure of what it called 'concentration camps' and accused their treatment of being 'a great cause of shame for humanity'.

But McDonell only went so far as to say: "One thing he might be expected by some in Muslim countries to raise would be the question of the camps in the far west of China. There's up to …"

The loss of transmission was no surprise, the reporter said. It's been happening a lot lately.

"We can pretty much predict the subjects when they will cut the feed and recently coverage of Xinjiang's mass "re-education" camps has been just such a subject," McDonell said.

EXPLORE MORE: How China became the ultimate dystopia

But, much to his surprise, a rebroadcast of his show later that evening ran in its entirety - including the controversial Uyghur references.

The Turkic ethnic group of some 10 million Uyghurs make up roughly half the population of the far-western province of Xinjiang, a region annexed by Communist China in 1949. It borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan.

RELATED: Beijing's brutal crackdown on religion, academics

Large pockets of Uyghurs also live in these adjoining countries, and some 3000 are in Australia.

But Xinjiang is region that has suddenly become central to Beijing's 'Belt and Road' international trade and influence scheme because its narrow valley passes act as a strategic choke-point for road and rail links to the Middle East and Europe.

Chinese soldiers march in front of the Id Kah Mosque, China's largest. Picture: Getty
Chinese soldiers march in front of the Id Kah Mosque, China's largest. Picture: Getty

The Muslim Uyghur culture is very different to that of the Han Chinese far to the east. To bring the ethnic group into line, Beijing has rapidly been building an extensive network of what it calls 'vocational camps' aimed at imposing conformity.

China has accused the Uyghurs of terror attacks across the country, accusing the ethnic group of embracing Islamic extremism.

Tens of thousands of security cameras have been installed in Xinjiang, tracking the movement of Uyghurs through facial recognition technology. Reports also state surveillance apps must also be installed on mobile phones.

After initially denying the existence of the re-education camps, Beijing now insists it is perfectly within its rights to treat its own citizens this way. The United Nations and many of the world's Muslim nations, however, disagree.



It’s back! $1-a-week subscription offer returns

premium_icon It’s back! $1-a-week subscription offer returns

Our cheapest deal is back offering the best journalism and rewards

Funding to attract more tourists to our region

premium_icon Funding to attract more tourists to our region

Two of the region’s biggest events score state funds to help drive further tourism...

Readers’ wish list for hospital

premium_icon Readers’ wish list for hospital

The Observer readers’ have told us what services they’d like to see at Gladstone...