Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are making “preparations” in advance of international monitors who might start investigating reports of mass incarcerations of ethnic Uyghurs by improving the appearance of political re-education camps and warning residents against speaking out about the facilities, according to sources.
Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout the XUAR, and some 1.1 million people are believed to have been held in the network—equating to 10 to 11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the region.
The mass detentions have drawn significant attention from the international community, and particularly from the U.S., where lawmakers have called for access to the camps and proposed sanctions against officials and entities in China deemed responsible for abusing the rights of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR.
While Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, the chairman of the XUAR government, Shohrat Zakir, told China’s official Xinhua news agency in October that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uyghurs.
But reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations has shown that those held in the camps are detained against their will, are subjected to political indoctrination and rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities. The atmosphere is more like a prison than any kind of school, multiple sources say.
A source recently told RFA that residents of Awat (in Chinese, Awati) county, in the XUAR’s Aksu (Akesu) prefecture, had been informed that an “inspection team” would soon be visiting the area, which is home to three re-education camps.
Of the 5,700 detainees at No. 2 Re-education Camp, 2,700 had been transferred to No. 1 and No. 3 camps, the source said, speaking to RFA on condition of anonymity, and authorities are removing all barbed wire from the perimeter of the camp walls, as well as other security measures, such as metal bars on the doors and windows.
If anyone is asked by the inspection team how many camps exist in Awat, residents should say only one, the source added.