China’s network of detention centers in Xinjiang, where Muslim minorities are allegedly subjected to repression, appears to be expanding – and a larger number of facilities resemble prisons, according to an Australian think tank.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute made the statement after reviewing satellite imagery and official tender documents to map more than 380 suspected facilities in the far northwest and highlight detention camps and other structures that have been newly built or expanded since 2017.
“The evidence available suggests that many extrajudicial inmates in Xinjiang’s vast re-education network are now being formally charged and detained in higher security facilities, including newly built or expanded prisons, or sent to walled factory buildings for forced labor,”
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Predominantly Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region, like the Uyghurs, were imprisoned in camps as part of a government assimilation campaign launched in response to decades of sometimes violent struggle against Chinese rule. Although Chinese officials have described the camps as “boarding school-like” facilities designed to provide free professional training, former inmates say they have been subjected to brutal conditions, political indoctrination, beatings, and sometimes mental and physical torture.
As part of the assimilation campaign, the state also forced Uyghurs to undergo sterilizations and abortions, an Associated Press investigation found, and in recent months ordered people to drink traditional Chinese medicines to fight the coronavirus.
At least 61 of the alleged detention centers were rebuilt and expanded in the year leading up to July 2020, the report said. This included at least 14 systems that are still under construction this year.
“About 50% of these are higher-security facilities, which could indicate a shift in use from lower-security re-education centers to higher-security prison facilities,” Ruser wrote.
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At least 70 facilities appeared to be less secure as internal fences or perimeter walls were removed, the report said.
This included eight camps that showed signs of shutdown and may have been closed. 90% of the warehouses that were deprived of security infrastructure were lower security devices, the report said.
The think tank’s findings are in line with AP interviews with dozens of relatives and former inmates, which reveal that many in the camps were convicted in secret, extrajudicial proceedings and transferred to high-security prisons, for example to have contact with people abroad and having too many children and studying Islam. Many others classified as less at risk, such as women or the elderly, have been transferred to factories under house arrest or forced labor.
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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed the report on Friday as “pure disinformation and defamation” and said the Australian institute had “no academic credibility”. China does not have so-called detention camps in Xinjiang, Wang told reporters at a daily meeting.
Citing media reports and Internet user investigations, Wang said one of the locations in the report was identified as an electronics manufacturing park and another as a five-star residential complex.
“So we also hope that all sectors can distinguish truth from falsehood and work together to resist such absurd claims made by anti-China institutions,” said Wang.
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Regional government chairman Shohrat Zakir was also quoted as saying that foreign media reports were fabricated by 1 million or 2 million people who visited these centers, although he would not provide any figures.
Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported late last year that “apprentices” who went to “vocational training centers” to deradicalize them “have all graduated.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.