The Chinese government is operating more than 250 suspected concentration and labor camps to detain Muslims in the nation’s northwest, according to a new satellite imagery analysis released Tuesday by a U.S.-based human rights group.
The mass detention of mostly ethnic Uighur or Turkic minorities and other Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province has generated international criticism over the past year, but the new data presented Tuesday put the number of detained — as well as the number of detainee camps — far higher than previously reported.
The rights group known as the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement claimed more than 3 million people are being held against their will in some 180 concentration camps and 75 labor camps, all viewable on satellite imagery through the Google Earth.
Organization founder and President Salih Hudayar dismissed claims by Chinese officials that most detainees were released earlier this year and that the camps are legal “re-education centers” designed to deradicalize potential terrorists and separatists in Xinjiang.
“China is not only re-educating these people but subjecting them to torture, subjecting them to forced starvation, forced medication, rape and there have been reports of organ harvesting,” said Mr. Hudayar, who cited a report by the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia that at least 150 people had died at one camp over the past six months.
He compared the Chinese government’s activities in Xinjiang, which human rights activists call “Chinese occupied East Turkistan,” to Nazi Germany’s rounding up of Jews at the start of World War II.
“[This] is a very dire situation getting close to what happened in the early 1940s, prior to the official Holocaust of the Jewish people,” Mr. Hudayar said.
The situation is a source of tension between Washington and Beijing. During a news conference in September, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell said that people in Xinjiang were being detained by Chinese authorities “arbitrarily for simple expressions of cultural and religious identity.”
“For example, possessing books on Islam and Uighur culture, reciting the Quran at a funeral, or even wearing religious attire will get you to negative attention from the [Chinese] government,” Mr. Stilwell said.
He made the comments a day after Chinese officials had denounced Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for saying Beijing is trying to “erase” Muslim culture from China.
“China’s repressive campaign in Xinjiang is not about terrorism,” Mr. Pompeo had said in remarks to regional foreign ministers. “[It’s] about China’s attempt to erase its own citizens’ Muslim faith and culture.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry called Mr. Pompeo’s comments “pure slanders in total disregard of facts.” It called the activities in Xinjiang “preventive counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures” taken in response to “violent terrorism that wreaked havoc” in the province for nearly two decades.
The ministry also accused the U.S. government of applying a “double standard” on counter-terrorism, claiming China’s actions have been “no different in nature from the deradicalization and preventive counterterrorism measures taken by many other countries, including the United States.”
The analysis circulated by Mr. Hudayar’s organization Tuesday described as a network of Chinese detention camps far surpassing anything engaged in by Washington during its own war on terror, including the U.S. prison for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.
A Washington Times review of dozens of sites identified by the group within Google Earth showed what appear to be vast detention facilities ringed with high walls and guard towers in locations across Xinjiang province, although the images don’t explicitly show what is occurring inside the facilities.
“What China is doing essentially is a genocide,” he said, “not only a genocide in the sense of eradicating a culture and an identity, but in the physical sense, given that people are indeed dying in these camps.”