Since summer of 2017, troubling reports in Western media outlets about large-scale detentions of ethnic Muslim minorities (including Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz) in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have multiplied (RFA, May 4). These reports include substantial anecdotal and eyewitness evidence describing a network of clandestine “re-education camps” in which detainees can be held indefinitely without process or recourse (AP News, December 17, 2017; Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2017).
The existence of these camps is denied by the Chinese government. In February of this year, during an interview with the Almaty Tengri News, Zhang Wei, China’s Consul General in Kazakhstan, issued what is to date the only statement by a Chinese public official on the reputed camp network. In reference to a CNN report on the camps, Zhang argued that “we do not have such an idea in China” (AKIpress, February 7; CNN, February 3). This article demonstrates that there is, in fact, a substantial body of PRC governmental sources that prove the existence of the camps. Furthermore, the PRC government’s own sources broadly corroborate some estimates by rights groups of number of individuals interred in the camps. While estimates of internment numbers remain speculative, the available evidence suggests that a significant percentage of Xinjiang’s Muslim minority population, likely at least several hundred thousand, and possibly just over one million, are or have been interned in political re-education facilities.