A claim made Tuesday by China’s two top ethnic Uyghur officials in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) that Uyghurs have been released from internment camps and found jobs was swiftly and roundly rejected by human rights experts and by people with relatives in the camp system.
At a news conference in Beijing, Shohrat Zakir, the XUAR government chairman, and Erkin Tuniyaz, the vice chairman, told reporters that the Uyghurs had completed their training and been reunited with their families.
“The majority of people who have undergone education and training have returned to society and returned to their families,” said Tuniyaz, according to The New York Times.
“Most have already successfully achieved employment,” he said. “Over 90 percent of the students have returned to society and returned to their families and are living happily.”
Authorities in the XUAR 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.
Though Beijing initially denied the existence of internment camps, China this year changed tack and started describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization and help protect the country from terrorism.
The mass incarcerations of Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Kirgiz have prompted increasing calls by the international community to hold Beijing accountable for its actions in the region, and Tuesday’s XUAR news conference was seen as an effort to blunt that criticism.
In interviews with RFA, human rights and Uyghur exile groups, as well as Uyghurs with relatives missing or detained in the camps, swiftly rejected the XUAR officials’ claims, with one exile group noting that Zakir’s own relatives have taken political asylum in Western countries.
“My sister has been missing since September 2018,” Uyghur activist Rushan Abbas told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“More than 25 of my in-laws are missing. If it is true that 90 percent of the people have been released, then where are my sister and the entire family of my husband?” she asked.