Malaysia’s Islamic Affairs minister has come under sharp criticism after describing a Uyghur internment camp that he visited in China as a “training and vocational center,” while human rights groups and U.S. officials have likened such facilities to concentration camps.
The controversy began during Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa’s eight-day trip to China, when on June 26 he posted photos on his official Facebook page that showed adults sitting at yellow school desks in a room surrounded with artificial flowers.
The minister declined Tuesday to disclose the location of the camp holding members of the Uyghur Muslim minority or answer other questions from BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, about his trip.
“The Center is running industrial training activities with various skills such as sewing, legislation, art, flower arrangement and et cetera,” a caption for one of the photos said, adding Mujahid that visited “the training and vocational center of the Uyghur community.”
The posting did not say if the “center” was in the Xinjiang region, where U.N. officials and rights groups said that up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other mainly Muslim Turkic minorities had been held in detention camps since April 2017.
Chinese authorities earlier denied the existence of internment camps, but said petty criminals had been sent to “employment training centers.”
On June 27, Amnesty International Malaysia expressed disappointment over the minister’s description of the camp.
“Amnesty International has first-hand knowledge that the Chinese authorities have detained Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims – outside any legal process – in ‘political education’ camps for their perceived disloyalty to the government and Chinese Communist Party,” the statement said.
“The authorities label the camps as centers for “transformation-through-education” but most people refer to them simply as “re-education camps,” Amnesty said.
In those camps, Uyghurs had been subjected to forced political indoctrination, renunciation of their faith, mistreatment, and, in some cases, torture, the rights watchdog group said.
In May, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an apparent reference to policies under Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, cited “massive human rights violations in Xinjiang where over a million people are being held in a humanitarian crisis that is on the scale of what took place in the 1930s.”