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Reports dispute China’s closure of Uyghur detention camps claim

Dubious arrests and disappearance have continued in Xinjing region, rights activists say
This picture taken on July 16, 2023, shows a woman passing by a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping accompanied by a propaganda slogan urging people to 'struggle unremittingly to realize the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people,' near Yarkant in northwestern China's Xinjiang region

This picture taken on July 16, 2023, shows a woman passing by a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping accompanied by a propaganda slogan urging people to 'struggle unremittingly to realize the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people,' near Yarkant in northwestern China's Xinjiang region. (Photo: AFP)

Published: September 19, 2023 04:26 AM GMT
Updated: September 19, 2023 05:29 AM GMT

Rights groups and media reports have dismissed China’s claim of closing detention camps for Uyghur Muslims in Xinjing and claimed that dubious arrests and disappearances have continued in the restive region.

The Uyghur internment camps continue to operate, and human rights violations of the Muslim minority go unabated, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Sept. 17 citing rights groups and media findings.

Chinese authorities claimed the facilities were “vocational training centers” where the “students” voluntarily learned new skills. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) claimed the camps were closed in 2019 and said those who graduated found “good jobs.”

However, RFA reported that its Uyghur Service investigation has confirmed that detentions continue, and satellite images reviewed by the service indicate that some sites previously identified as internment facilities remain intact. Many people rounded up by police remain missing.

“Uyghurs are still very much living in a state of brokenness,” said Maya Wang, associate director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch.

An estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and Kazakhs have been allegedly sent to the camps, rights groups say.

RFA claims that the data it gathered confirms reports from several news outlets, including Agence France-Presse (AFP), that Uyghurs and other Muslim minority communities in the region continue to face ethnic persecution despite international pressure on China.

Qurban Nur, a 45-year-old Uyghur man, was allegedly held at a camp in Seriqbuya township in Kashgar for two years and two months before being released last spring.

People are “continuously coming in” to the facility in Kashgar, RFA reported citing an unnamed local village security official who acknowledged Nur’s detention.

Two men in their mid-twenties — Burham Hizir and Payzulla Rahman — have been detained in a camp operating in the city of Korla, within the Bayingolin prefecture, northeast of Kashgar since 2021, the sources told RFA.

A UN Human Rights report in 2022 condemned China for committing “serious human rights violations” against Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang.

The report found that “allegations of patterns of torture, or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment and adverse detention conditions, are credible, as are allegations of individual incidents of sexual and gender-based violence.”

The report stated that “far-reaching, arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms, in violation of international laws and standards”, including restrictions on religious freedom and the rights to privacy and movement had occurred in the region.

China in a detailed and firm rebuttal of the UN allegations stated that its counterterrorism and “de-radicalization efforts” in the region, had been conducted according to “the rule of law” and by no means add up to “suppression of ethnic minorities.”

The camps for Uyghurs, according to the Chinese government narrative were “learning facilities established in accordance with law intended for de-radicalization” and not “concentration camps.”

The UN body had noted that despite China dismantling ​​its camp system the “laws and policies that underpin it remain in place” and lead to increased imprisonment.

Adrian Zenz, a German academic whose research exposed the breadth of the campaign against Uyghurs pointed out that some low-security camps appear to have been closed.

But the “capacity for high-security detention and higher security prisons has increased significantly,” Zenz told RFA.

“It’s difficult to assess the true situation in Xinjiang given that Uyghurs are unable to freely communicate with outsiders,” he added.

This month AFP reporters visited some of the homes in Yarkant County in southern Xinjiang that Zenz’s research identified as the addresses of Uyghurs allegedly gathered up in China’s ideological re-education effort.

The houses were closed or abandoned, and the locals drove the reporters away from investigating further, RFA said.

The journalists also visited sites identified by researchers as detention camps and found some that appear to be still operating, although they do not identify where they are located.

“Several had staffed guard towers, security cameras, and high walls topped with barbed wire,” AFP reported.

The Canberra-based Australian Strategic Policy Institute had identified 11 sites in Yarkant County as detention facilities which included jails and re-education camps in 2020.

The sites still had external walls and six had watchtowers as of 2022, RFA said citing an analysis of Google Earth satellite images by its team.

Bahtiyar Omer, director of the Norway-based Uyghur Transitional Justice Database group alleged that more than 12,600 Uyghurs are being held in camps in Xinjiang.

“The concentration camps have not disappeared,” Omer told RFA.

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