Leaked government documents outlining the need to prevent escape, double lock doors and constantly monitor detainees in China’s network of internment camps in Xinjiang refute Beijing’s defence of “vocational education centers” in the region, experts say.
Obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and published by 17 media outlets worldwide on Sunday, the documents show the strict protocols governing life in the camps in Xinjiang, where an estimated 1 million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are held.
In one document, local officials are told to monitor inmates at all times — including during toilet breaks — to prevent escape.
Staff are also banned from befriending inmates and engaging in “personal interactions” to prevent “collusion,” the document said.
“It shatters [the Chinese Communist Party’s] narrative about these camps as benign vocational training centers where Uighurs and other Chinese Muslim[s] willingly undertake training,” said James Leibold, an expert on ethnic relations in China and a professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.
Instead, the documents outline “in the Party’s own words ... the calculated, coercive and extrajudicial nature of these detentions,” he said.
The leak comes one week after the New York Times reported, based on more than 400 pages of internal papers it had obtained, that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) ordered officials to act with “absolutely no mercy” against separatism and extremism in a 2014 speech following a Uighur militant attack on a train station.
After initially denying their existence, China acknowledged that it had opened “vocational education centres” in Xinjiang aimed at preventing extremism by teaching Mandarin and job skills.
Former detainees describe the facilities as indoctrination camps that are part of a campaign to eradicate Uighur culture and religion.
The latest leak consists of a list of guidelines Zhu Hailun (朱海倫), the top security official and deputy party secretary in Xinjiang, approved in 2017 for running the detention camps, along with intelligence briefings that show how police use data collection and artificial intelligence to select residents for detention.
Officials were ordered to keep strict secrecy about the “highly sensitive” centers, with staff forbidden from bringing mobile phones or cameras into “teaching and management areas,” one document said.
Referring to detainees as students who must “graduate” from the camps, the guidelines lay out how staff should manage their day-to-day lives, such as by ensuring “timely haircuts and shaves,” while also emphasizing that detainees are barred from having cellphones, an English translation of the memo posted by ICIJ said.
The memo said that inmates should be judged based on a points system that measures “ideological transformation, study and training, and compliance with discipline.”
The Chinese embassy in London rejected the documents, telling the Guardian, one of the partners in publishing the memos, that they were “pure fabrication and fake news.”
“There are no such documents or orders for the so-called ‘detention camps’. Vocational education and training centers have been established for the prevention of terrorism,” the statement said.
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