China admits to locking up Uyghurs, but defends Xinjiang crackdown

Remigio Civitarese
Ottobre 16, 2018

Some former detainees have said conditions in the camps are poor, with inmates subjected to psychological and physical abuse, according to Reuters.

Zakir, himself an ethnic Uighur, said the facilities were meant to improve job skills and Mandarin abilities among minorities with "a limited command of the country's common language and a limited sense and knowledge of the law".

Zakir is the first top Xinjiang official to speak publicly about the widely criticised camps, as China comes under increasing worldwide pressure over its reported mass detention and enforced political education of up to 1 million ethnic Uygurs and other Muslims in the area. "The objective is to fundamentally eliminate the environment and soil that breeds terrorism and religious extremism, and eliminate the terrorism activities before they take place".

Chinese authorities initially denied the existence of 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". He said the centres were for people "influenced by terrorism and extremism" and suspected of "minor criminal offences" to receive "free vocational training".

"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. Ex-detainees have detailed being tortured, isolated and cut off from their families.

Taking to Twitter - a social media platform that is blocked in China - the paper's editor-in-chief Hu Xijin said officials had told him the figures for the number of people in "vocational education" were "much fewer than the "1 million or so" speculated by the outside world".

Zakir said the training institutions "care about the mental health of students" and provide counselling services.

Omir Bekali, a Chinese-born Kazakhstan citizen who was released from one of the camps, told Associated Press earlier this year that detainees were also made to undergo political indoctrination, lectured on the dangers of Islam and ordered to chant, "Thank the party!" He said the cafeterias in the camps prepare "nutritious diets" and that all dormitories were equipped with radios, televisions, and air conditioning.

"Many trainees have said that they were previously affected by extremist thought and had never participated in such kinds of art and sports activities, and now they have realised that life can be so colourful", he was quoted as saying.

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

In his state-media interview, Mr Zakir hinted some detainees may be released at the end of the year because they were coming close to reaching, "the completion standard agreed to in training agreements".

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