Thu, Jan 17, 2019 - Page 9 News List

‘If you enter a camp, you never come out’: inside China’s war on Islam

In Hotan, documents show officials are expanding detention camps and increasing surveillance

By Lily Kuo  /  The Guardian, LUOPU, China

Illustration: Mountain People

The Luopu County (洛浦) No. 1 Vocational Skills Training Center is difficult to miss. It emerges suddenly, a huge campus towering over hectares of farmland.

Outside the compound — surrounded by tall, white concrete walls lined with barbed wire and surveillance cameras — a police car patrols as several guards carrying long batons stand watch.

The center, which straddles a highway, is bigger than most of the surrounding villages — about 170,000m2. A banner on one building reads: “Safeguard ethnic unity.”

Half a dozen people were standing on the roadside, staring at the buildings. No one was willing to say exactly what the prison-like facility was, or why they were waiting on its perimeter.

“We don’t know,” an older woman said.

Another woman had come to see her brother, but declined to say more. A young girl with her two brothers announced that they had come to see their father — her mother quickly hushed her.

They were reluctant to talk, because the building was not a formal prison or university, but an internment camp where Muslim minorities, mainly Uighurs, are sent against their will and without trial for months, or even years.

Researchers and residents have said that southern Xinjiang, where the Luopu County No. 1 Vocational Skills Training Center is located, has borne the brunt of the government’s crackdown on Muslims, because of its density of Uighurs and distance from major cities.

“We have a saying in Hotan (和田): If you go into a concentration camp in Luopu, you never come out,” said Adil Awut (name changed to protect identity), from Hotan City, who is now living overseas.

This month, the UN asked for direct access to the camps after a panel said that it had received “credible reports” that 1.1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs, Hui and other ethnic minorities had been detained.

Beijing has aggressively defended its policies and sought to portray the camps as benign and describe Xinjiang, where outbursts of violence occurred in the 1990s and 2000s, as peaceful thanks to government efforts.

A starkly different reality emerges in Luopu, also known as Lop County, where interviews with current and former residents, and analysis of public documents revealed new details about the government’s continuing campaign in one of the worst-affected areas of Xinjiang.

Local authorities are expanding detention camps, increasing surveillance and policing, and co-opting residents through intimidation, force and financial incentives.

In the past year, at least 10 buildings have been added to the No. 1 Vocational Skills Training Center, satellite imagery showed.

Construction work on the camp, identified through company records found by University of British Columbia student Shawn Zhang, was still being carried out when reporters visited in the middle of last month.

Luopu, a sparsely populated rural county of about 280,000 people that is almost entirely Uighur, is home to eight internment camps officially labeled “vocational training centers,” public budget documents showed.

Last year, officials expected to accommodate 12,000 “students,” as well as another 2,100 inmates at another detention center — a total of about 7 percent of the county’s adult population, or 11 percent of the entire male population.

Luopu County also planned to spend almost 300 million yuan (US$44.3 million) on “stability control,” including about US$300,000 on a surveillance system to cover all mosques, and funding for almost 6,000 police officers to work in “convenient police stations” and security checkpoints, as well as to patrol residential areas.

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