Cuffs, cattle prods, and Chinese textbooks in Xinjiang


Ben Dooley of Agence France-Presse has a new report on the internment camps in Xinjiang, which begins like this:

On state television, the vocational education centre in China’s far west looked like a modern school where happy students studied Mandarin, brushed up their job skills, and pursued hobbies such as sports and folk dance.

But earlier this year, one of the local government departments in charge of such facilities in Xinjiang’s Hotan prefecture made several purchases that had little to do with education: 2,768 police batons, 550 electric cattle prods, 1,367 pairs of handcuffs, and 2,792 cans of pepper spray.

The report is based on an “examination of more than 1,500 publicly available government documents — ranging from tenders and budgets to official work reports,” and show that despite the Chinese government’s claims, the centers “are run more like jails than schools.”

  • There are at least 181 internment camps in Xinjiang, according to AFP research. “While China has rejected estimates that upwards of one million are held in the centres, tender documents hint at huge numbers.”
  • The camps should “teach like a school, be managed like the military, and be defended like a prison,” said one document reviewed by AFP, quoting Xinjiang’s Party secretary, Chén Quánguó 陈全国. Another document argued that the the camps must “build new, better Chinese citizens,” and therefore need to first “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins.”
  • There are some real educational activities, although they seem focused on forcing Uyghurs to speak Chinese: “In a one-month period in early 2018, Hotan county’s vocational education bureau, which oversees at least one centre, ordered 194,000 Chinese language practice books,” according to AFP.

The BBC also has a new report on Xinjiang: China’s hidden camps, compiled from on-the-ground reporting and lengthy interviews with eight Uyghurs living overseas.

  • The exiled Uyghurs’ “testimonies are remarkably consistent, providing evidence of the conditions and routines inside the camps and the broad basis on which people are detained.”
  • The BBC found that the number of new camps being constructed this year is lower than in 2017, but “in terms of overall surface area of the facilities being built, there is more this year than last.”
  • An Australian architecture firm “with long experience in prison design” told the BBC that using satellite imagery of one camp indicated “that, at an absolute minimum, the facility could provide space for about 11,000 detainees.” This is comparable to the biggest prisons in the world: Riker’s Island in New York, America’s largest, can hold 10,000 prisoners. Silivri Prison, outside Istanbul, can house 11,000.
  • However, that estimate is based on individual rooms or cells. If the prisoners are in dormitories, not single cells, the facility may be able to hold 130,000.