Xinjiang re-education camps
Internment camps, indoctrination camps, re-education camps
Detainees listening to speeches in a camp in Lop County, Xinjiang, April 2017[1]
Other namesVocational Education and Training Centers
LocationXinjiang, China
Built byCommunist Party of China
Operated byXinjiang government and Party committee
OperationalSince 2017[2]
Number of inmatesUp to 1.5 million (2019 Zenz estimate)[3]

1 million – 3 million over several years (2019 Schriver estimate)[4][5]

Plus ~497,000 minors in special boarding schools (2017 government document estimate)[6]
Re-education camps
Uyghur name
Uyghurقايتا تەربىيەلەش لاگېرلىرى
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese再教育
Traditional Chinese再教育[7]
Vocational Education and Training Centers
Simplified Chinese职业技能教育培训中心
Traditional Chinese職業技能教育培訓中心

The Xinjiang re-education camps, officially called Vocational Education and Training Centers by the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC),[8][9][10] are internment camps operated by the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region government and its CPC committee. Human Rights Watch has alleged that they are used to indoctrinate Uyghurs and other Muslims since 2017[2] as part of a "people's war on terror", a policy announced in 2014.[11][12]

The camps were established under CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping's administration[12] and led by CPC committee secretary, Chen Quanguo. These camps are reportedly operated outside the legal system; many Uyghurs have reportedly been interned without trial and no charges have been levied against them.[13][14][15] Local authorities are reportedly holding hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in these camps as well as members of other ethnic minority groups, for the stated purpose of countering extremism and terrorism[16][17] and promoting Sinicization.[18][19][20]

As of 2018, it was estimated[who?] that Chinese authorities may have detained hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million, Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other ethnic Turkic Muslims, Christians as well as some foreign citizens such as Kazakhstanis, who are being held in these secretive internment camps which are located throughout the region.[21][22][23][24][25][26] In May 2018, US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver said "at least a million but likely closer to three million citizens" were imprisoned in detention centers, which he described as "concentration camps".[4][5] In August 2018, a United Nations human rights panel said that it had received many credible reports that 1 million ethnic Uyghurs in China have been held in "re-education camps".[27][28] There have also been multiple reports by media outlets,[29][30][31][32][33][34] politicians[35][36] and researchers[37][38][39][40][41][42][43] which compared the camps to the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

In 2019, United Nations ambassadors from 22 nations, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom[44][45] signed a letter condemning China's mass detention of the Uyghurs and other minority groups, urging the Chinese government to close the camps.[46][47][48] In 2020, the United States Congress passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on 17 June 2020[49] which authorizes the imposition of U.S. sanctions against Chinese government officials responsible for re-education camps.[50] Conversely, a joint statement was signed by 50 states commending China's counter-terrorism program in Xinjiang, including Algeria, the DR Congo, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, North Korea, Egypt, Nigeria, the Philippines and Sudan.[51][44][52][45][52]


Main article: History of Xinjiang

Xinjiang conflict

Main article: Xinjiang conflict

Various Chinese dynasties have historically exerted control over parts of what is modern-day Xinjiang.[53] The region came under modern Chinese rule as a result of the westward expansion of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty, which also conquered Tibet and Mongolia.[54] After the 1928 assassination of Yang Zengxin, the governor of the semi-autonomous Kumul Khanate in east Xinjiang under the Republic of China, Jin Shuren succeeded Yang as governor of the Khanate. On the death of the Kamul Khan Maqsud Shah in 1930, Jin abolished the Khanate entirely and took control of the region as warlord.[55] In 1933, the breakaway First East Turkestan Republic was established in the Kumul Rebellion.[55][56][57] In 1934, the First Turkestan Republic was conquered by warlord Sheng Shicai with the aid of the Soviet Union before Sheng reconciled with the Republic of China in 1942.[58] In 1944, the Ili Rebellion led to the Second East Turkestan Republic with dependency on the Soviet Union for trade, arms, and "tacit consent" for its continued existence before being absorbed into the People's Republic of China in 1949.[59]

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the government sponsored a mass migration of Han Chinese to the region, policies promoting Chinese cultural unity, and policies punishing certain expressions of Uyghur identity.[60][61] During this time, militant Uyghur separatist organizations with potential support from the Soviet Union emerged, with the East Turkestan People's Party being the largest in 1968.[62][63] [64] During the 1970s, the Soviets supported the United Revolutionary Front of East Turkestan (URFET) to fight the Chinese.[65]

In 1997, a police roundup and execution of 30 suspected separatists during Ramadan led to large demonstrations in February 1997 that resulted in the Ghulja incident, a People's Liberation Army (PLA) crackdown that led to at least nine deaths.[66] The Ürümqi bus bombings later that month killed nine people and injured 68 with responsibility acknowledged by Uyghur exile groups.[67][56] In March 1997, a bus bomb killed two people with responsibility claimed by Uyghur radicals and the Turkey-based Organisation for East Turkistan Freedom.[68][69][56]

In July 2009, riots broke out in Xinjiang in response to a violent dispute between Uyghur and Han Chinese workers in a factory and result in over one hundred deaths.[70][71] Following the riots, Uyghur radicals killed dozens of Chinese citizens in coordinated attacks from 2009 to 2016.[72][73] These included the August 2009 syringe attacks,[74] the 2011 bomb-and-knife attack in Hotan,[75] the March 2014 knife attack in the Kunming railway station,[76] the April 2014 bomb-and-knife attack in the Ürümqi railway station,[77] and the May 2014 car-and-bomb attack in an Ürümqi street market[78] Several of the attacks were orchestrated by the Turkistan Islamic Party (formerly the East Turkestan Islamic Movement) which has been designated a terrorist organization by several countries including Russia,[79] Turkey,[80][81] the United Kingdom,[82] and the United States,[83] in addition to the United Nations.[84]

Strategic motivations

Some analysts have suggested that Xinjiang is viewed as a key route for China's Belt and Road Initiative and that the ruling Communist Party perceives its local population as a potential threat to the success of the Belt and Road Initiative. Sean Roberts of George Washington University said the CPC sees Uyghurs' attachment to their traditional lands as a risk to the Belt and Road Initiative.[85] Researcher Adrian Zenz has suggested the initiative as an important factor behind the control of the Chinese government over Xinjiang.[86]

Policies from 2009 to 2016

Number of re-education related government procurement bids in Xinjiang according to the Jamestown Foundation[87]

Both prior to and until shortly after the July 2009 Ürümqi riots, Wang Lequan was the Party secretary for the Xinjiang region, effectively the highest subnational role; roughly equivalent to a governor in a Western province or state. Wang worked on modernization programs in Xinjiang, including industrialization, development of commerce, roads, railways, hydrocarbon development and pipelines with neighboring Kazakhstan to eastern China. Wang also constrained local culture and religion, replaced the Uyghur language with Standard Mandarin as the medium of education in primary schools, and penalized or banned among government workers (in a region in which the government was a very large employer), the wearing of beards and headscarves, fasting and praying while on the job.[88][89][90] In the 1990s, many Uyghurs in parts of Xinjiang could not speak Mandarin Chinese.[91]

In April 2010, after the Ürümqi riots, Zhang Chunxian replaced Wang Lequan as the Communist Party chief. Zhang Chunxian continued and strengthened Wang's repressive policies. In 2011, Zhang proposed "modern culture leads the development in Xinjiang" as his policy statement and started to implement his modern culture propaganda.[92] In 2012, he first mentioned the phrase "de-extremification" (Chinese: 去极端化) campaigns and started to educate "wild Imams" (野阿訇) and extremists (极端主义者).[93][94][87]

In 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative was announced, a massive trade project at the heart of which is Xinjiang.[95] In 2014, Chinese authorities announced a "People's war on terror" and local government introduced new restrictions and banned "abnormal" long beards, the wearing of veils in public places and naming of children to exaggerate religious fervor (including names such as Muhammad or Fatimah)[96][97][98] as a campaign against terrorism and extremism.[99][100] In 2014, the concept of "transformation through education" began to be used in contexts outside of Falun Gong through the systematic "de-extremification" campaigns.[101] Under Zhang, the Communist Party launched its "Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism" in Xinjiang, leading to many remands, detentions, arrests, and incarcerations.[citation needed]

In August 2016, Chen Quanguo, a well-known hardline Communist Party leader in Tibet,[102] took charge of the Xinjiang autonomous region. Chen was branded as responsible for a major component of Tibet's "subjugation" by critics.[103]

Following Chen's arrival, local authorities recruited over 90,000 police officers in 2016 and 2017 – twice as many as they recruited in the past seven years,[104] and laid out as many as 7300 heavily guarded check points in the region.[105] The province has come to be known as one of the most heavily policed regions of the world. English-language news reports have labelled the current regime in Xinjiang as the most extensive police state in the world.[106][107][108][109]

Sinicization and antireligious campaigns in China

Main article: Antireligious campaigns in China

The government of the People's Republic of China officially espouses state atheism,[110] and it has conducted antireligious campaigns in order to accomplish this end.[111] Since 2014, the Communist Party of China has shifted its policies in favor of outright sinicization of ethnic and religious minorities.[19] The trend accelerated in 2018 when the State Ethnic Affairs Commission and the State Administration for Religious Affairs were placed under the control of the United Front Work Department.[112]

Individuals have been sent to the camps for wearing long beards, refusing alcohol, or other behaviors authorities deem to be signs of “religious extremism.” Former detainees report that they suffered torture, rape, sterilization, and other abuses. In addition, nearly half a million Muslim children have been separated from their families and placed in boarding schools. During 2019, the camps increasingly transitioned from reeducation to forced labor as detainees were forced to work in cotton and textile factories. Outside the camps, the government continued to deploy officials to live with Muslim families and to report on any signs of “extremist” religious behavior. Meanwhile, authorities in Xinjiang and other parts of China have destroyed or damaged thousands of mosques and removed Arabic-language signs from Muslim businesses.[113]


Beginning in 2017, local media generally referred to facilities as "counter-extremism training centers" (去极端化培训班) and "education and transformation training centers" (教育转化培训中心). Most of those facilities were converted from existing schools or other official buildings, although some were purpose-built.[2]

The heavily policed region and thousands of check points assisted and accelerated the detention of locals in the camps. In 2017 the region constituted 21% of all arrests in China despite comprising less than 2% of the national population, eight times more than previous year.[106][114] The judicial and other government bureaus of many cities and counties started to release a series of procurement and construction bids for those planned camps and facilities.[87] Increasingly, massive detention centers were built up throughout the region and are being used to hold hundreds of thousands of people targeted for their religious practices and ethnicity.[115][11][116][103][117]

Victor Shih, a political economist at the University of California, San Diego, claimed in July 2019 the mass internments were unnecessary because "no active insurgencies" existed, only "isolated terrorist incidents". He suggested that because a great deal of money was spent setting up the camps, the money likely went to associates of the politicians who created them.[118]

According to the Chinese ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye in December 2019, all of the "trainees" in the centers have graduated and have gradually returned to their jobs or found new jobs with government assistance.[119] Cheng also called reports that one million Uyghurs had been detained in Xinjiang "fake news" and that "what has been done in Xinjiang has no ... difference with what the other countries, including western countries, [do] to fight against terrorists."[119][120]

During the COVID-19 pandemic in mainland China, there were no reports of cases of the coronavirus in Xinjiang prisons or of conditions in the re-education facilities.[121] After program suspensions due to the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic, Uyghur workers were reported to have been returned to other parts of Xinjiang and the rest of China to resume work beginning in March 2020.[121][122][123]

New York Times and ICIJ leaks

Main articles: Xinjiang papers and China Cables

On 16 November 2019, The New York Times released an extensive leak of 400 pages of documents, sourced from a member of the Chinese government, in the hope that Xi Jinping would be held accountable for his actions. The New York Times stated that the leak suggests discontent inside the Communist Party relating to the crackdown in Xinjiang. The anonymous government official who leaked the documents did so with the intent that the disclosure "would prevent party leaders, including Mr. Xi, from escaping culpability for the mass detentions."[12]

We must be as harsh as them and show absolutely no mercy. — Xi Jinping on the terror attacks in 2014, (translated from Mandarin Chinese)[12]

One document was a manual aimed at communicating messages to Uyghur students who were returning home and would ask about their missing friends or relatives who had been interned in the camps. It said that government staff should acknowledge that the internees had not committed a crime and that "It is just that their thinking has been infected by unhealthy thoughts." Officials were directed to say that even grandparents and family members who seemed too old to carry out violence could not be spared.[12][124]

The New York Times stated that speeches obtained show how Xi views risks to the party similar to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which The New York Times stated Xi "blamed on ideological laxity and spineless leadership."[12] Concerned that violence in the Xinjiang region could damage social stability in the rest of China, Xi stated "social stability will suffer shocks, the general unity of people of every ethnicity will be damaged, and the broad outlook for reform, development and stability will be affected."[12] Xi encouraged officials to study how the US responded following the September 11 attacks.[12] Xi likened Islamic extremism alternately to a virus-like contagion and a dangerously addictive drug, and declared that addressing it would require “a period of painful, interventionary treatment.”[12]

The China Daily reported in 2018 that communist party official Wang Yongzhi was removed for "serious disciplinary violations."[12][125] The New York Times obtained a copy of Wang's confession (which the report noted was likely signed under duress) and stated that The New York Times believed he was sacked for being too lenient on Uyghurs, for example his release of 7000 detainees. Wang had told his superiors that he was concerned that the actions against the Uyghurs would breed discontent and thus result in greater violence in the future. The leaked documents stated, "he ignored the party central leadership's strategy for Xinjiang, and he went as far as brazen defiance...He refused, to round up everyone who should be rounded up".[12] The article was discreetly shared on the Chinese platform Sina Weibo, where some netizens expressed sympathy for him.[126][124] In 2017, there were more than 12,000 investigations into party members in Xinjiang for infractions or resistance in the "fight against separatism", which was more than 20 times the figure in the previous year.[12]

On 24 November 2019, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published the China Cables, consisting of six documents, an "operations manual" for running the camps and detailed use of predictive policing and artificial intelligence to target people and regulate life inside the camps.[127][128]

Shortly after the publication of the China Cables, leaker Asiye Abdulaheb went on to provide Adrian Zenz with the "Karakax list", allegedly a Chinese government spreadsheet that tracks the rationale behind 311 of the internments at a "Vocational Training Internment Camp" in the seat of Karakax County in Xinjiang.[129] The purpose of the list may have been to coordinate judgments on whether an individual should remain in internment; in some entries, the word "agree" was written beside a judgment.[130] Records detail how subjects dress and pray, and how their relatives and acquaintances behave.[131] One subject was interned because she wore a veil years ago; another was interned for clicking on a link to a foreign website; a third was interned for applying for a passport, despite posing "no practical risk" according to the spreadsheet. In general, the subjects on the Karakax list all have relatives living abroad, a category that reportedly leads to "almost certain internment". 149 subjects are documented as violating birth control policies. 116 of the subjects are listed without explanation as "untrustworthy"; for 88 of these, this "untrustworthy" label is the only reason listed for internment. Younger men, in particular, are often listed as "untrustworthy person born in a certain decade". 24 subjects are accused of formal crimes, including six terrorism-related allegations. Most of the subjects have been released, or scheduled for release, following the end of their one-year internment term; however, some of these are recommended for release into "industrial park employment", raising concerns about possible forced labor.[132]

Camp facilities

In urban areas, most of the camps are converted from existing vocational schools, communist party schools, ordinary schools or other official buildings, while in suburban or rural areas the majority of camps were specially built for the purposes of re-education.[133] These camps are guarded by armed forces or special police and equipped with prison-like gates, surrounding walls, security fences, surveillance systems, watchtowers, guard rooms and facilities for armed police etc.[134][135][136][137]

In November and December 2018, the magazine Bitter Winter released three videos it claimed had been shot inside two camps in the Yining area. The videos show jail-like features and the magazine claimed they proved that the camps are detention facilities rather than "schools".[138][139][140] According to Business Insider, the second "Bitter Winter’s video... matches the descriptions of former detainees and witnesses of other detention facilities in Xinjiang."[141]

While there is no public, verifiable data for the number of camps, there have been various attempts to document suspected camps based on satellite imagery and government documents. On 15 May 2017, Jamestown Foundation, a Washington, D.C. based institute, released a list of 73 government bids related to re-education facilities.[87] On 1 November 2018, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's (ASPI) International Cyber Policy Centre (ICPC) reported on suspected camps in 28 locations.[142] On 29 November 2018, Reuters and Earthrise Media reported 39 suspected camps.[143] The East Turkistan National Awakening Movement has reported larger numbers of camps.[144][145]

In a 2018 report from US government-funded Radio Free Asia, Awat County (Awati) was said to have three re-education camps. An RFA listener provided a copy of a "confidentiality agreement" requiring re-education camp detainees to not discuss the workings of the camps and said local residents were instructed to tell members of re-education camp inspection teams visiting No. 2 Re-education Camp, which had transferred thousands detainees and removed barbed wire from the perimeter of the camp walls, that there was only one camp in the county.[146]

Boarding schools for children of detainees

The detention of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities has allegedly left many children without their parents. The Chinese government has allegedly held these children at a variety of institutions and schools colloquially known as "boarding schools", although not all are residential institutions, that serve as de facto orphanages.[147][148][149] In September 2018, The Associated Press reported that thousands of boarding schools were being built.[148] According to the Chinese Department of Education children as young as eight are enrolled in these schools.[150]

According to Adrian Zenz and BBC in 2019, children of detained parents in boarding schools have been forced to learn Mandarin Chinese and prevented from exercising their religion.[151][152][153][154] In a paper published in the Journal of Political Risk, Zenz calls the effort a "systematic campaign of social re-engineering and cultural genocide."[155] Human Rights Watch has claimed that the children detained at child welfare facilities and boarding schools are held without parental consent or access.[156][157] In December 2019 The New York Times reported that approximately 497,000 elementary and junior high school students were enrolled in these boarding schools. They also reported that students are only allowed to see family members once every two weeks and that they were forbidden from speaking the Uyghur language.[150]

Camp detainees


Many media outlets have reported that hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, as well as Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other ethnic minorities are held in the camps.[158][159][160] Radio Free Asia, a site funded by the US government, estimated in January 2018 that 120,000 members of the Uyghurs are currently being held in political re-education camps in Kashgar prefecture alone.[161] In 2018, local government authorities in Qira County expected to have almost 12,000 detainees in vocational camps and detention centres and some projects related to the centres outstripped budgetary limits.[162] Reports of Uyghurs living or studying abroad being detained upon return to Xinjiang are common, which is thought to be connected to the re-education camps. Many living abroad have gone for years without being able to contact their family members still in Xinjiang, who may be detainees.[163][164]

Uyghur politician Rebiya Kadeer, who has been in exile since 2005, has had as many as 30 relatives detained or disappeared, including her sisters, brothers, children, grandchildren, and siblings.[165][166] It is unclear when they were taken away.[167][168]

On 13 July 2018, Sayragul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh Chinese national and former employee of the Chinese state, appeared in a court in the city of Zharkent, Kazakhstan for being accused of illegally crossing the border between the two countries. During the trial she talked about her forced work at a re-education camp for 2,500 ethnic Kazakhs.[169][170] Her lawyer believed that if she is extradited to China, she would face the death penalty for exposing re-education camps in Kazakh court.[171][170] Her testimony for the re-education camps have become the focus of a court case in Kazakhstan,[172] which is also testing the country's ties with Beijing.[173][174] On 1 August 2018, Sayragul Sauytbay, who fled one of the Chinese re-education camps, was released with a six-month suspended sentence and direction to regularly check in with police. She applied for asylum in Kazakhstan to avoid being deported to China.[175][176][177] Kazakhstan refused to grant her asylum. On 2 June 2019 she flew to Sweden where she was then given political asylum.[178][179]

According to a Radio Free Asia interview with an officer at the Onsu County police station, as of August 2018, 30,000 persons, or about one in six Uyghurs in the county (approximately 16% of the overall population of the county), were detained in re-education camps.[180]

Gene Bunin created the Xinjiang Victims Database[181] to collect public testimonies on people detained in the camps. Each page lists basic demographic information including dates and suspected cause of detention, location, in addition to supplementary videos, photos and documents.

Writing in the Journal of Political Risk in July 2019, independent researcher Adrian Zenz estimated an upper speculative limit to the number of people detained in Xinjiang re-education camps at 1.5 million.[3] In November 2019, Adrian Zenz estimated that the number of internment camps in Xinjiang had surpassed 1,000.[182] In November 2019, George Friedman estimated that 1 in 10 Uyghurs are being detained in re-education camps.[183]

According to an anonymous Uyghur local government employee quoted in an article by US government-sponsored Radio Free Asia, during Ramadan 2020 (April 23 to May 23), residents of Makit County (Maigaiti), Kashgar Prefecture were told they could face punishment for fasting including being sent to a re-education camp.[184]

Testimonies of treatment

Kayrat Samarkand, a Kazakh citizen who migrated from Xinjiang, was detained in one of the re-education camps in the region for three months for visiting neighboring Kazakhstan. On 15 February 2018, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the same day as Kayrat Samarkand was freed from custody.[185] After his release, Samarkand claimed that he faced endless brainwashing and humiliation, and that he was forced to study communist propaganda for hours every day and chant slogans giving thanks and wishing for a long life to Xi Jinping.[186]

Mihrigul Tursun, an Uyghur woman detained in China, after escaping one of these camps, talked of beatings and torture. After moving to Egypt, she traveled to China in 2015 to spend time with her family and was immediately detained and separated from her infant children. When Tursun was released three months later, one of the triplets had died and the other two had developed health problems. Tursun said the children had been operated on. She was arrested for the second time about two years later. Several months later, she was detained the third time and spent three months in a cramped prison cell with 60 other women, having to sleep in turns, use the toilet in front of security cameras and sing songs praising China's Communist Party.[187]

Tursun said she and other inmates were forced to take unknown medication, including pills that made them faint and a white liquid that caused bleeding in some women and loss of menstruation in others. Tursun said nine women from her cell died during her three months there. One day, Tursun recalled, she was led into a room and placed in a high chair, and her legs and arms were locked in place. "The authorities put a helmet-like thing on my head, and each time I was electrocuted, my whole body would shake violently and I would feel the pain in my veins," Tursun said in a statement read by a translator. "I don’t remember the rest. White foam came out of my mouth, and I began to lose consciousness," Tursun said. "The last word I heard them saying is that you being an Uyghur is a crime." She was eventually released so that she could take her children to Egypt, but she was ordered to return to China. Once in Cairo, Tursun contacted U.S. authorities and, in September, came to the United States and settled in Virginia.[188]

Former inmates claim that they are required to learn to sing the national anthem of China and communist songs. Punishments, like being placed in handcuffs for hours, waterboarding, or being strapped to "tiger chair" (a metal contraption) for long periods of time, are allegedly used on those who fail to follow.[189][190]

According to detainees, they were also forced to drink alcohol and eat pork, which are forbidden in Islam.[26][189] Some reportedly received unknown medicines while others attempted suicide.[191] There have also been deaths reported due to unspecified causes.[192][193][194][195][196][197][198][199] Detainees have alleged widespread sexual abuse, including forced abortions, forced use of contraceptive devices and compulsory sterilization.[200][201] It has been reported that Han officials have been assigned to reside in the homes of Uyghurs who are in the camps.[202][203] Rushan Abbas of the Campaign for Uyghurs claims that the actions of the Chinese government amount to genocide according to United Nations definitions which are laid out in the Genocide Convention.[204]

According to Time, Sarsenbek Akaruli, 45, a veterinarian and trader from Ili, Xinjiang, was arrested in Xinjiang on 2 November 2017. As of November 2019, he is still in a detention camp. According to his wife Gulnur Kosdaulet, Akaruli was put in the camp after police found the banned messaging app WhatsApp on his cell phone. Kosdaulet, a citizen of neighboring Kazakhstan, has traveled to Xinjiang on four occasions to search for her husband but could not get help from friends in the Communist Party of China. Kosdaulet said of her friends, "Nobody wanted to risk being recorded on security cameras talking to me in case they ended up in the camps themselves."[205]

In May to June 2017, a woman native to Maralbexi County (Bachu) named Mailikemu Maimati (also spelled Mamiti) was detained in the county's re-education camp according to her husband Mirza Imran Baig. He said that after her release, she and their young son were not given their passports by Chinese authorities.[206][207]

According to Time, former prisoner Bakitali Nur, 47, native of Khorgos, Xinjiang on the Sino-Kazakh border, was arrested because authorities were suspicious of his frequent trips abroad. He reported spending a year in a cell with seven other prisoners. The prisoners sat on stools seventeen hours a day, were not allowed to talk or move and were under constant surveillance. Movement carried the punishment of being put into stress positions for hours. After release, he was forced to make daily self-criticisms, report on his plans and work for negligible payment in government factories. In May 2019, he escaped to Kazakhstan. Nur summarized his experience in jail and under constant monitoring after his release saying, "The entire system is designed to suppress us."[205]

According to Radio Free Asia, Ghalipjan, a 35 year old Uyghur man from Shanshan/Pichan County who was married and had a five-year-old son, died in a re-education camp on 21 August 2018. Authorities reported his death was due to heart attack, but the head of the Ayagh neighborhood committee said that he was beaten to death by a police officer. His family was not allowed to carry out Islamic funeral rites.[208]

According to a 2018 report in the New York Times, Abdusalam Muhemet, 41, who ran a restaurant in Hotan before fleeing China in 2018, said he spent seven months in prison and more than two months in a camp in Hotan in 2015 without ever being criminally charged. Muhemet said that on most days, the inmates at the camp would assemble to hear long lectures by officials who warned them not to embrace Islamic radicalism, support Uyghur independence or defy the Communist Party.[209]

In an interview with Radio Free Asia, an officer at the Kuqa (Kuchar, Kuche) County Police Department reported that from June to December 2018, 150 people at the No. 1 Internment Camp in the Yengisher district of Kuqa county had died, corroborating earlier reports attributed to Himit Qari, former area police chief.[210][211]

According to a unanimous determination by the China Tribunal, forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale and, despite denials by the Chinese government, continues today. Involuntary organ donors, including Uyghurs, Falun Gong members, and miscellaneous political prisoners, are tortured to death - their organs often harvested without anesthesia and while the victims are still conscious.[212][213][214][215][216][217][218][219][220]

Forced labor

Adrian Zenz reported that the re-education camps also function as forced labor camps in which Uyghurs and Kazakhs produce various products for export, especially those made from cotton grown in Xinjiang.[221][222][223][224] The growing of cotton is central to the industry of the region as "43 percent of Xinjiang's exports are apparel, footwear, or textiles". In 2018, 84% of China's cotton was produced in the Xinjiang province.[225] Since cotton is grown and processed into textiles in Xinjiang, a November 2019 article from The Diplomat said that "the risk of forced labor exists at multiple steps in the creation of a product".[226]

In 2018, the Financial Times reported that the Yutian / Keriya county vocational training centre, among the largest of the Xinjiang re-education camps, had opened a forced labour facility including eight factories spanning shoemaking, mobile phone assembly and tea packaging, giving a base monthly salary of CN¥1,500. Between 2016 and 2018, the centre expanded 269 percent in total area.[227]

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute reported that from 2017-19 more than 80,000 Uyghurs were shipped elsewhere in China for factory jobs that "strongly suggest forced labour".[228] Conditions of these factories were consistent with the stipulations of forced labor as defined by the International Labor Organization.[229]

Lawmakers from the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, led by Jim McGovern and Marco Rubio, introduced a bill in April 2020 that aims to prevent the importation of Chinese products tied to evidence of unfree labor.[229]

Notable persons

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International reactions

Nations that have expressed support (green) or opposition (red) towards the Xinjiang re-education camps.

Reactions by other countries

On 8 July 2019, 22 countries signed a statement to the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights in which they called for an end to mass detentions in China and expressed concerns over widespread surveillance and repression.[44][231]

In July 2019, 50 countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Sudan, Angola, Cuba, Algeria, Nigeria, DR Congo, North Korea, Serbia, Russia, Venezuela, Philippines, Myanmar, Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Djibouti and Palestine signed a joint letter to the UNHRC commending China's "remarkable achievements in the field of human rights", claiming "Now safety and security has returned to Xinjiang and the fundamental human rights of people of all ethnic groups there are safeguarded."[232][51][233]

In October 2019, 23 countries including United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Canada, Japan, Australia and United States signed a joint letter to the UN Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly's Third Committee urging China to close the camps in Xinjiang.[45]

In November 2019, the Belarusian representative to the UN read a statement from 54 countries which they said were in support of China's Xinjiang policies.[234][235][236] The signatories were Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, China, Comoros, the Congo, Cuba, North Korea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Iraq, Iran, Laos, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, the Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Russia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, the Solomon Islands, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, the Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Togo, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe.[237]

Signatories of the July 2019 HRC statement

Position Quantity States
Against 22 (per 8 July letter) Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom[48][238]
50 (per 12 July letter) Algeria, Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Comoros, Congo, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Laos, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Togo, Turkmenistan, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe[51]
Withdrawn support 1 Qatar[238]

Other reactions by country




The French authorities are examining very carefully all of the testimonies and documents disseminated by the press over the past several days, indicating the existence of a system of internment camps in Xinjiang and a widespread policy of repression in this region. As we have publicly indicated on several occasions, as have our European partners, notably at the UN, within the framework of the most recent UN Human Rights Council sessions, we call on the Chinese authorities to put an end to mass arbitrary detentions in camps and to invite the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Xinjiang as soon possible to assess the situation in this region.[242]




NPR reported that "Kazakhstan and its neighbors in the mostly Muslim region of Central Asia that have benefited from Chinese investment aren't speaking up for the Muslims inside internment camps in China".[246]

 New Zealand



 Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman defended China's re-education camps.[256]






 United Kingdom

 United States


 European Union

Organization for Islamic Cooperation

 United Nations

Human rights organisations


In a July 2018 article, the Foreign Policy reported:

No Muslim nation's head of state has made a public statement in support of the Uighurs this decade. Politicians and many religious leaders who claim to speak for the faith are silent in the face of China’s political and economic power...Many Muslim governments have strengthened their relationship with China or even gone out of their way to support China’s persecution.[323]

In April 2020, Emirati princess Hend Faisal Al Qassemi spoke out against the persecution of the Uyghurs.[324]

In 2019, The Art Newspaper reported that "hundreds" of writers, artists, and academics had been imprisoned, in what the magazine qualified as an attempt to "punish any form of religious or cultural expression" among Uyghurs.[325] Additionally, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum published an article about the camps, in which she claimed that China was using them to persecute Uyghurs and make them a minority in their ancestral homeland, and in the same article, she also claimed that China previously did the same thing to Tibetans in Tibet.[326]

The Center for World Indigenous Studies has labeled these policies "cultural genocide".[327] The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum referred to China's persecution of Uyghurs as "crimes against humanity."[328]

Vox Media,[22] The Daily Telegraph[257] and Dolkun Isa have referred to these camps as concentration camps.[329][330] The Washington Post editorial board further referred to the camps as part of a "mass ethnic cleansing."[331]

Responses from China

This section is in list format but may read better as prose. You can help by converting this section, if appropriate. Editing help is available. (November 2018)

The Chinese government denied the existence of re-education camps in Xinjiang [citation needed], until October 2018, when it officially legalized them.[332] When international media had asked about the re-education camps, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that they have not heard of this situation.[333]

On 12 August 2018, a Chinese state-run tabloid, Global Times, defended the crackdown in Xinjiang[334] after a U.N. anti-discrimination committee raised concerns over China's treatment of Uyghurs. According to the Global Times, China prevented Xinjiang from becoming 'China's Syria' or 'China's Libya', and local authorities' policies saved countless lives and avoided a 'great tragedy'.[335][336] The paper published another editorial the day after, titled "Xinjiang policies justified".[337]

On 13 August 2018, at a UN meeting in Geneva, the delegation from China told the United Nations Human Rights Committee that "There is no such thing as re-education centers in Xinjiang and it is completely untrue that China put 1 million Uyghurs into re-education camps".[338][339][340] A Chinese delegation said that "Xinjiang citizens, including the Uyghurs, enjoy equal freedom and rights." They claimed that "Some minor offenders of religious extremism or separatism have been taken to 'vocational education' and employment training centers with a view to assisting in their rehabilitation".[341]

On 14 August 2018, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said "anti-China forces had made false accusations against China for political purposes and a few foreign media outlets misrepresented the committee's discussions and were smearing China's anti-terror and crime-fighting measures in Xinjiang" after a U.N. human rights committee raised concern over reported mass detentions of ethnic Uyghurs.[342][343]

On 21 August 2018, Liu Xiaoming, the Ambassador of China to the United Kingdom, wrote an article in response to a Financial Times report entitled "Crackdown in Xinjiang: Where have all the people gone?".[344] Liu's response said: "The education and training measures taken by the local government of Xinjiang have not only effectively prevented the infiltration of religious extremism and helped those lost in extremist ideas to find their way back, but also provided them with employment training in order to build a better life."[345]

On 10 September 2018, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang condemned a report about the re-education camps issued by Human Rights Watch. He said: "This organisation has always been full of prejudice and distorting facts about China." Geng also added that: "Xinjiang is enjoying overall social stability, sound economic development and harmonious co-existence of different ethnic groups. The series of measures implemented in Xinjiang are meant to improve stability, development, solidarity and people's livelihood, crack down on ethnic separatist activities and violent and terrorist crimes, safeguard national security, and protect people's life and property."[346][347]

On 11 September 2018, China called for U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to "respect its sovereignty", after she urged China to allow monitors into Xinjiang and expressed concern about the situation there.[348] Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: "China urges the U.N. human rights high commissioner and office to scrupulously abide by the mission and principles of the U.N. charter, respect China's sovereignty, fairly and objectively carry out its duties, and not listen to one-sided information".[349][348][350]

On 16 October 2018, a CCTV prime-time program aired a 15-minute episode on what was termed as Xinjiang's 'Vocational Skills Educational Training Centers', featuring the Muslim internees. Sinologist Manya Koetse documented that it received a mixture of supportive and critical responses on the Sina Weibo social media platform.[351]

In March 2019, against the background of the US considering imposing sanctions against Chen Quanguo, who is the region's most senior Communist Party official, Xinjiang governor Shohrat Zakir denied the existence of the camps. [citation needed] [292]

On 18 March 2019, the Chinese government released a white paper about the counter-terrorism, de-radicalization in Xinjiang. The white paper claims "A country under the rule of law, China respects and protects human rights in accordance with the principles of its Constitution." The white paper also claims Xinjiang has not had violent terrorist cases for more than two consecutive years, extremist penetration has been effectively curbed, and social security has improved significantly.[352]

In July 2019, the Chinese government released another white paper that claims "The Uygur people adopted Islam not of their own volition … but had it forced upon them by religious wars and the ruling class."[353] A Global Times opinion piece the same month claimed that the re-education camps employed "the advanced version of normal social govern" and said the process is "the victory of all the Chinese people including Xinjiang people".[354] In November 2019, the Chinese ambassador in London responded questions about newly leaked documents on Xinjiang by calling the documents "fake news."[278]

On 6 December 2019, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying accused the US of hypocrisy on human rights issues relating to allegations of torture at Guantanamo Bay detention camp.[355][356]

Response from dissidents

On 10 August 2018, about 47 Chinese intellectuals and others issued an appeal against what they describe as "shocking human rights atrocities perpetrated in Xinjiang".[357]

In December 2019 in Hong Kong, a mixed crowd of young and elderly people, dressed in black and wearing masks to shield their identities, held up signs reading “Free Uyghur, Free Hong Kong” and “Fake ‘autonomy’ in China results in genocide”. They numbered around 1000. They rallied calmly, waving Uyghur flags and posters as part of the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests. The local riot police pepper sprayed protesters to disperse the crowd.[358]

International Criminal Court complaint

In July 2020, Uyghur activist groups filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court calling for it to investigate PRC officials for crimes committed against Uyghurs, including allegations of genocide.[359][360]

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