Amid allegations of abuse and involuntary detention, officials from China‘s northwestern Xinjiang region have said most of the people who were in the area’s controversial re-education centres had left the facilities and signed “work contracts” with local companies.
At a press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, Shohrat Zakir, Xinjiang’s Uighur governor, declined to say how many people were being held in the centres, but defended the system as an effective and “pioneering” approach to counter “terrorism”.
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“Most of the graduates from the vocational training centres have been reintegrated into society,” Zakir said. “More than 90 percent of the graduates have found satisfactory jobs with good incomes.”
The United States, human rights groups and independent analysts estimate that around one million Muslims have been arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang’s heavily guarded internment facilities, which the Chinese government calls vocational training centres.
The region is home to Uighurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups.
Xinjiang Vice Chairman Alken Tuniaz said accounts of mistreatment in the camps had been concocted by a few countries and media outlets.
People were allowed to “request time off” and “regularly go home”, and while they were not permitted to practise their religion during their “period of study,” they were able to do so once they were at home, he said.
The officials did not address whether the programme was voluntary or how often people were allowed to go home.
‘Prison in the mountains’
Testimony from people who have escaped the centres provides a much darker picture, however.
In July 2018, a former teacher at one of the centres told a court in Kazakhstan that “in China, they call it a political camp but really it was a prison in the mountains”.
The Human Rights Watch has accused China of conducting a “mass systematic campaign of human rights violations” against the Turkic-speaking Muslim minority group.
China is also accused of prohibiting the use of the headscarf and observance of fasting during the month of Ramadan.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday that Ankara was sending an observation team to Xinjiang. The announcement came after Cavusoglu discussed the situation of the Uighur with his Chinese counterpart.
Turkey has regularly expressed concerned about the plight of the Uighur.
Separately, China’s anti-corruption watchdog said on Tuesday that a senior official in the special administrative region was under investigation.
Enwaer Tursun, an ethnic Uighur who as the mayor of the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, backed the crackdown in Xinjiang, became deputy secretary-general of the region’s People’s Congress in 2017.
The local branch of the anti-graft agency said Tursun was being investigated for “serious violations of discipline and law”, which usually means corruption.
The 53-year-old man “is currently under disciplinary review and supervision investigation” by the region’s discipline inspection commission, AFP news agency reported, citing a statement from the agency.
Tursun is the latest official to have come under suspicion as part of President Xi Jinping‘s campaign against corruption in the Communist Party, which critics have compared with a political purge.
Another top Uighur official, Nur Bekri, a former chairman of the Xinjiang region who has also headed the national energy administration, pleaded guilty at a trial last week to accepting $11.5m in bribes.