Uyghur exile leaders on Friday dismissed China’s claims that members of their ethnic group held in political “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are taking part in “voluntary vocational training,” saying Beijing seeks to cover up widespread abuses in the region.
Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout the XUAR, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
While Beijing initially denied the existence of such camps, the Uyghur chairman of Xinjiang’s provincial government, Shohrat Zakir, told China’s official Xinhua news agency earlier this week that the facilities are “humane” and a tool to protect the country from terrorism.
According to Zakir, Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims in the region are taught Mandarin at the camps, as well as important vocational skills and lessons on Chinese law, all while being provided with free meals in comfortable living conditions, and that they are free to come and go as they like.
Reporting by RFA and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
Western governments have increasingly drawn attention to the camp network, where Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, has said that some 1.1 million people are or have been detained—equating to 10 to 11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the XUAR.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert recently said the U.S. government was “deeply troubled” by the crackdown on Uyghurs, while U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley described it earlier this week as “the largest internment of civilians in the world today” and “straight out of George Orwell,” during a speech at the Chiefs of Defense Conference Dinner in Washington.
‘Covering up crimes’
Zakir’s claims were part of a now almost daily barrage of Chinese state media propaganda extolling the camp system.
On Tuesday, state broadcaster CCTV ran a primetime program praising the camp system, with interviews with Uyghurs thanking the campaign for correcting their erroneous ways. Critics said the interviews looked like the televised forced confessions and apologies China has used to showcase the conversion disappeared human rights lawyers and other dissidents.