Chinese officials claim that the “education and training” camps holding an estimated one million Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group, and other Muslim minorities, have released a majority of the detainees. But Western governments, human rights activists, and Uighur diaspora remain skeptical.
China sees the Uighur people as terrorist and separatist threats. As a result, these camps are reportedly considered places of torture, indoctrination, and death. Muslims there are forced to renounce Islam, consume pork, and support the Chinese Communist Party (also know as the CCP). In a press conference, Alken Tuniaz, the vice-chairman of the Xinjiang government, recently announced,“The majority of people who have undergone education and training have returned to society and returned to their families.” Shohrat Zakir, the regional-chairman, asserted that at least 90 percent of the Uighurs “have found suitable work to their liking with an impressive income. These people have now become a positive factor in society, leading other ordinary people to create business and employment.” But, experts view these recent statements as an attempt to relieve the increasing international condemnation on these camps.
Many people around the world have called for transparency and evidence especially since Uighurs living abroad are speaking up on behalf of their missing relatives. “I won’t believe China’s claims myself until I hear from my sister,” Rushan Abbas, a Uighur American in Washington, D.C., told Vox. “My sister is still missing since September 2018. She is a retired medical doctor, fluent in Chinese, and the CCP had no reason to detain or ‘re-educate’ her.” After hearing multiple reports, 22 countries that include Argentina, Canada, France, and Germany came together this past July and asked China to stop the detentions. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also named it the “the stain of the century.” However, China responded to the criticism with a letter of support signed by 50 ambassadors including some from Saudi Arabia.
Besides the many unanswered questions of the Uighurs’s release, Mr. Zakir’s statement about Uighur employment appeared as inaccurate. While Uighurs may have obtained jobs, others suspect that the work is connected to the camps. First-hand accounts show that they are forced to work many tasks, including embroidering clothes. Satellite analysts believe this is the case as the construction of factories or warehouses were spotted near the camps. Adrian Zenz, an independent researcher in Germany, finds that the factories are a method to control everyone. He explains, “In these jobs the government can control them. They can’t take off on Friday to go to the mosque, they also can’t fast, they cannot do basic religious practice.”
Although Uighurs in these facilities live in terrible conditions, those outside the camps face troubles of their own. China has tightened the surveillance in Xinjiang, by incorporating face recognition and drones in the area. Uighurs have also been required to present the government with fingerprints, DNA samples, voice samples, and blood types. Officials also have permission to stop them on the streets at several “checkpoints” and force them to download an app to monitor cell phone activity. For Uighurs in China, in and out of camps, true freedom is unheard of.