Nearly one in 25 people in a county in the Uighur heartland of China have been sentenced to prison on terrorism-related charges, in what is the highest known imprisonment rate in the world, an Associated Press (AP) review of leaked data shows.
A list obtained and partially verified by the AP cites the names of more than 10,000 Uighurs sent to prison in just Konasheher county alone, one of dozens in southern Xinjiang.
The list is by far the biggest to emerge to date with the names of imprisoned Uighurs. It confirms what families and rights groups have said for years: China is relying on a system of long-term incarceration to keep the Uighurs in check.
Under searing international criticism, Chinese officials announced the closure in 2019 of short-term camps where Uighurs were held without charges, but thousands of Uighurs still languish for years or even decades in prison on what experts say are trumped-up charges of terrorism.
The list was obtained by Xinjiang scholar Gene Bunin from an anonymous source who described themselves as a member of China’s Han Chinese majority “opposed to the Chinese government’s policies in Xinjiang.” It was passed to the AP by Abduweli Ayup, an exiled Uighur linguist in Norway.
The AP authenticated the list through interviews with eight Uighurs who recognized 194 people listed, as well as legal notices, recordings of telephone calls with Chinese officials, and checks of address, birthdays and identity numbers.
Even a conservative estimate places Konasheher’s imprisonment rate at more than 10 times that of the US, one of the world’s leading jailers, according to US Department of Justice statistics.
It is also more than 30 times higher than for China as a whole, according to state statistics from 2013, the last time such figures were released.
“It is really remarkable,” said Darren Byler, an expert on Xinjiang’s mass incarceration system. “In no other location have we seen entire populations of people be described as terrorists or seen as terrorists.”
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