China has secretly constructed new prisons and internment camps over the past several years as the Communist Party-ruled country ramps up its mass detention campaign against Muslim minorities, according to a report on Thursday.
Since 2017, China has built 260 of the high-security camps that have the capacity to hold tens of thousands of people and points to a shift from using public buildings and schools as makeshift detention centers to the use of a permanent prison infrastructure system, BuzzFeed news reported, citing satellite images and interviews with former detainees.
China, which has detained hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in the largest-scale detention of ethic and religious minorities since World War II, has outfitted the facilities with concrete walls and guard towers, the report said.
Some contain factories, a sign of forced labor.
Construction is continuing.
Former detainees described being held in horrendous, brutal conditions with many blindfolded and handcuffed, being fed a starvation diet of rice, steamed buns and porridge but little or no meat.
Many had to sleep two to a bed or take turns sleeping in shifts because of overcrowding.
They relayed stories about being subject to torture, solitary confinement, forced birth control, forced brainwashing sessions about Communist Party propaganda, and forced to speak only Chinese, as opposed to their native languages.
“People are living in horror in these places,” Zhenishan Berdibek, 49, who was held in a camp in the Tacheng region for much of 2018, told BuzzFeed. “Some of the younger people were not as tolerant as us — they cried and screamed and shouted.”
Watching young women being dragged away to solitary confinement, she said she “wanted to die inside the camp.”
Orynbek Koksebek, an ethnic Kazakh, said when he was first detained at the end of 2017 he slept in a room with seven other men and they didn’t have to share a bed. But more people kept arriving every month, and by February 2018 the number of men in his room doubled.
“Some of us had to share blankets or sleep on the floor,” he said. “They told us later that some of us would be given prison sentences or transferred to other camps.”
Koksebek said the conditions were stifling.
“There was a window in our room, but it was so high I couldn’t see much other than a patch of sky,” he said. “I used to wish I were a bird so I could have the freedom to fly,” he said.
The Chinese Consulate in New York denied the centers in Xinjiang had anything to do with “human rights, religion or ethnicity,” but battling terrorism.
It called allegations that a million Uighurs had been detained in the region a “groundless lie.”
“Xinjiang has set up vocational education and training centers in order to root out extreme thoughts, enhance the rule of law awareness through education, improve vocational skills and create employment opportunities for them, so that those affected by extreme and violent ideas can return to society as soon as possible,” the consulate said, adding that the “trainees have freedom of movement.”
The programs, it said, were similar to “compulsory programs for terrorist criminals” being run in the US and United Kingdom.
China’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to BuzzFeed’s requests for comment.
But Abduweli Ayup, a former detainee, who was held in Xinjiang and later exiled, said the people in the concentration camps are “peaceful people.”
“They are businessmen and scholars and engineers. They are our musicians. They are doctors. They are shopkeepers, restaurant owners, teachers who used Uighur textbooks,” Ayup said.
The report said the Chinese government doesn’t include the internment camps as part of the criminal justice system so the detainees have never been formally charged or arrested for a crime.
Nor have they had a chance to defend themselves in court.
Categories: Human Rights & Social Issues