A leading researcher on China’s ethnic policies said on Wednesday that an estimated 1.5 million Uighurs and other Muslims could be held in so-called re-education centres in Xinjiang region, up from his earlier figure of 1 million.
China faces growing international opprobrium for what it says are vocational training centres in Xinjiang, a region bordering central Asia that is home to millions of ethnic minority Muslims. Beijing said the measures are needed to stem the threat of Islamist extremism.
The governor of Xinjiang, Shohrat Zakir, said on Tuesday that China is running boarding schools not concentration camps or re-education camps in the remote region.
Adrian Zenz, a German researcher, said his new estimate was based on satellite images, public spending on detention facilities and witness accounts of overcrowded facilities and missing family members.
“Although it is speculative it seems appropriate to estimate that up to 1.5 million ethnic minorities – equivalent to just under 1 in 6 adult members of a predominantly Muslim minority group in Xinjiang – are or have been interned in any of these detention, internment and re-education facilities, excluding formal prisons,” Zenz said at an event organised by the US mission in Geneva, home of United Nations human rights bodies.
“The Chinese state’s present attempt to eradicate independent and free expressions of the distinct ethnic and religious identities in Xinjiang is nothing less than a systematic campaign of cultural genocide and should be treated as such,” Zenz added.
The US State Department on Wednesday sharply criticised human rights violations in China, saying the sort of abuses it had inflicted on its Muslim minorities had not been seen “since the 1930s”.
Omir Bekali, a Kazakh Uighur, told a panel that he had been tortured by Xinjiang police and held in a camp for six months in a small room with 40 people.