CNA Staff, Sep 24, 2020 / 02:08 pm (CNA).- Researchers at an Australian think tank have found that re-education camps for Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region have expanded in the past year, despite government claims that most detainees had been released.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute said in a Sept. 24 report that it had “identified and mapped more than 380 suspected detention facilities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, highlighting ‘re-education’ camps, detention centres and prisons that have been newly built or expanded since 2017.”
“The findings of this research contradict Chinese officials’ claims that all ‘trainees’ from so-called vocational training centres had ‘graduated’ by late 2019. Instead, available evidence suggests that many extrajudicial detainees in Xinjiang’s vast ‘re-education’ network are now being formally charged and locked up in higher security facilities, including newly built or expanded prisons, or sent to walled factory compounds for coerced labour assignments.”
The think tank presented satellite imagery evidence showing construction and expansion at 61 sites since July 2019; half of these, it said, are ‘higher security facilities, which may suggest a shift in usage from the lower-security, ‘re-education centres’ toward higher-security prison-style facilities.”
It added that “at least 70 facilities appear to have been desecuritised by the removal of internal fencing or perimeter walls. This includes 8 camps that show signs of decommissioning, and it is possible they have been closed.”
An estimated 1 million Uyghurs, members of a Muslim ethnoreligious group, have been detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang. Inside the camps they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination. Outside the camps, Uyghurs are monitored by pervasive police forces and facial recognition technology.
The Chinese government has defended its policy of mass detention and re-education as an appropriate measure against terrorism.
The government at one time denied the camps even existed, but has since shifted to defending its actions as a reasonable response to a national security threat, and claiming they are vocational training centers.
Government officials from the region said in July 2019 that the area’s re-education camps for Muslims have been successful, with most of those held having been reintegrated into Chinese society.
Shohrat Zakir, chairman of Xinjiang, said at a July 30, 2019 press conference in Beijing that “most of the graduates from the vocational training centers have been reintegrated into society,” according to the AP. “More than 90% of the graduates have found satisfactory jobs with good incomes.”
Xinjiang vice chairman Alken Tuniaz said detainees were allowed to “request time off” and “regularly go home,” the AP reported.
While they are not permitted to practice their religion during their “period of study”, he said, they may do so at home.
Tuniaz also said that “the majority of personnel who received education and training have returned to society and gone back to their homes,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “The majority have successfully secured employment.”
Uyghurs can be arrested and detained under vague anti-terrorism laws. Violence in the region escalated in the 1990s and again in 2008.
A 2019 document from a Xinjiang county leaked to western media earlier this year gave violation of birth control policies as the most common reason for the “re-education” of some 3,000 Uyghurs, often alongside other reasons.
In June an AP investigation found a systematic campaign by the Chinese Communist Party of pregnancy checks and forced abortions, sterilizations, and implantations of IUDs on Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.
The US House passed a bill Sept. 22 to ensure goods sold in the country are not made with forced labor from the internment camps, and earlier this year the Trump administration put travel and asset sanctions on several senior officials of the CCP. in Xinjiang for their role in the mass internment of Uyghurs.
The US Commerce Department in October 2019 added 28 Chinese organizations to a blacklist barring them from buying products from US companies, saying they cooperate in the detention and repression of the Uyghurs.
The repression of Uyghurs is part of a widespread effort by the Chinese government to “Sinicize” religion and culture across the country.
In 2018, the Holy See and Beijing signed a two-year deal to unify the underground Catholic Church in China with the communist-administered Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, and to collaborate on the appointment of bishops in Chinese dioceses. That agreement is expected to be renewed. State officials in various regions of China have continued to remove crosses and demolish church buildings, and underground Catholics and clergy continue to report harassment and detention.
A Sept. 22 report by Adrian Zenz at the Jamestown Foundation said that in the Tibet Autonomous Region hundreds of thousands have been coerced into vocational training or labor camps.
And in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, beginning this month schools are transitioning from teaching three core subjects in Mongolian, to doing so in Mandarin.