But white paper does not say how many people have been detained in camps, a number UN estimates at 1 million or more
- Analyst says it is a ‘clear attempt to respond to the growing global outcry’
China has arrested nearly 13,000 “terrorists” in far western Xinjiang since 2014, the government said in a white paper released on Monday, the latest bid to counter criticism of its treatment of Muslim minorities.
Beijing has drawn international condemnation for its network of mass internment camps in Xinjiang, where rights experts estimate 1 million or more Uygurs and other Muslim minorities have been held for political indoctrination.
In response, the Chinese government last year launched a propaganda offensive to reframe and justify the camps, which it insists are “vocational training centres” that are necessary to counter “religious extremism” and ensure stability.
The white paper released by the State Council, China’s cabinet, is the latest effort to advance that narrative, with a focus on how its “hard-hitting” approach has helped thwart terror attacks.
“Since 2014, Xinjiang has destroyed 1,588 terrorist groups, arrested 12,995 terrorists, seized 2,052 explosive devices, investigated and punished 30,645 people for 4,858 illegal religious activities and confiscated 345,229 copies of illegal religious materials,” it said.
But it did not state how many people had been detained in the camps, which it said were for eradicating the influence of “terrorism and extremism” on people who carried out minor crimes or offences.
Last Tuesday, Xinjiang governor Shohrat Zakir said during the country’s annual legislative sessions that the number of detainees was less than 1 million – an estimate made by United Nations rights experts last summer. Zakir called the figure “hype” but declined to provide the exact number instead, saying only that it was “dynamic and changing”.
Zakir also disputed criticism that the detainees were kept in “concentration camps” and instead called them “boarding schools” and said they could return home freely if they wished.
Adrian Zenz, an expert on Xinjiang with the European School of Culture and Theology in Germany, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last Wednesday that after two years of rapid expansion, the camps may now hold as many as 1.5 million Muslims.
Zenz said the figures cited in the white paper were not designed or suited to counter Western estimates, but were likely intended to “lend justification to the massive ‘preventative’ internment strategy by implying that Xinjiang has suffered from a very major terrorist threat”.
He said the white paper was also “designed to make us believe that the re-education centres function just like ‘boarding schools’”, referring to Zakir’s comment, and it was a “clear attempt to respond to the growing global outcry”.
Former inmates have told foreign media that they were subjected to abuse, political brainwashing, forced labour and were cut off from their families outside while at the camps. The white paper, however, claimed “trainees” were well looked after, enjoyed “colourful” sports and recreation activities and could pay “regular visits” home. But it did acknowledge that they were banned from holding or participating in religious activities inside the facilities.
Patrick Poon, China researcher with Amnesty International, said the white paper showed that the Chinese government was concerned about justifying the existence of the camps.
“However, apart from the numbers, we simply have no information about who those ‘terrorists’ are,” he said. “The broad and vague definition of ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ in fact is the cause of the mass arbitrary detention of the people in the region,” he added.
In the past months, China has ramped up efforts at home and abroad to defend the camps, escorting select diplomats and journalists on highly controlled tours to visit see them and speak to select inmates. State media has also released videos depicting rosy lives inside the camps to counter accounts of harsh conditions and abuse by former inmates in Western media reports.
But the campaign has so far failed to gain much credibility or quell criticism.
Last week, the US State Department said it was considering sanctions on those responsible for human rights violations against Muslims in Xinjiang, echoing Turkey to call the situation a “great shame for humanity”.
Last month, Turkey became the first prominent Muslim-majority power to lash out at China over the camps and call for their immediate closure. SOURCE