Internment camps for Muslim Uighurs make their lives ‘colourful’, Chinese governor claims

Elias Hubbard
October 19, 2018

Beijing has faced growing worldwide criticism for its crackdown in Xinjiang, a far north-western territory of China where it holds as many as a million Muslims prisoner in camps. The report also did not say if attendance was mandatory, though former detainees have said they were forcibly held in centers policed by armed guards.

The centres were for "people influenced by terrorism and extremism, but only suspected of minor criminal offences [and] do not have to be subject to penalties or can be exempted from criminal punishment", Zakir said, without disclosing how many people had been sent to the camps.

Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the Government of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, said the camps - whose existence China had until recently denied - were opened under the directive of Chinese President Xi Jinping to fight against the "three evil forces" of terrorism, extremism and separatism, reports Efe news.

They received Chinese language lessons and lectures on the country's constitution and laws, he said.

"Through vocational training, most trainees have been able to reflect on their mistakes and see clearly the essence and harm of terrorism and religious extremism", he said.

The positive image of the centres portrayed in the PR drive is belied by testimonies from former detainees who describe harsh treatment in the facilities. Skills training included food processing, assembling electronic products, hairdressing, clothes making and e-commerce.

The interview follows a revision of local rules last week to allow the regional government to officially permit the use of "education and training centres" to incarcerate "people influenced by extremism".

China's Government has released details of its network of "vocational training" centres in the far west for the first time, which activists claim are political indoctrination camps for thousands of Muslims.

"The Communist party is clearly on the defensive, seeking to deflect global criticism of its radical new policies in Xinjiang and justify them retrospectively", said James Leopald, a scholar focusing on Chinese ethnic policies at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

"These camps remain blatantly unlawful and arbitrary under both Chinese and global law; and the suffering and abuses of what is estimated to be one million people in them can not be wiped away through propaganda", she was quoted as saying by Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. Ex-detainees have detailed being tortured, isolated and cut off from their families.

Xinjiang, bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, has been restive for the past several years over protests from Uygur Muslims, an ethnic group of over 10 million Turkik origin people, over the large scale settlements of Han Chinese from other provinces. One former detainee told the Guardian he had attempted to kill himself.

Zakir said that according to feedback from the vocational education and training institutions, some trainees have come close to or reached the completion standard agreed in the training agreements. The centers' cafeterias provide "nutritious, free diets", and dormitories are fully equipped with TVs, air conditioning and showers, he said. Facilities for basketball, volleyball, table tennis and stages for performances have been built, he added.

"Various activities such as contests on speech, writing, dancing, singing and sports are organised", Mr Zakir is reported to have said.
"While they were previously mired in poverty such training put them on the path toward a modern life and makes them confident about the future", he added.

The governor did not say how many "trainees" were at the centres or how long their courses were but indicated the programmes were temporary.

"They are expected to complete their courses successfully by the end of this year, he said".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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