Shohrat Zakir speaks during a press conference in Beijing on Monday. Nicolas Asfouri/ AFP
China on Monday defended its vast network of re-education camps in Xinjiang and said it would continue “training” residents, following explosive government document leaks detailing surveillance and control of the region’s Uighur population.
The government has launched a propaganda drive in recent days to justify its security crackdown after the leaks emerged and the US Congress passed a bill calling for sanctions against officials involved in the controversial policy.
In a press conference, Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the far-west region, rejected estimates by rights groups and foreign experts that more than one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are held in the facilities.
But he did not provide a figure for the number of people housed in what the government describes as “vocational education centres.”
“Students ... with the help of the government have realised stable employment (and) improved their quality of life,” Zakir said.
Currently, those in the centres have “all completed their courses,” he said, adding that “there are people entering and exiting.”
In addition to the centres, the Xinjiang government’s next step is to “proceed with daily, routine, normal, and open educational training to village cadres, rural party members, farmers, herdsmen, and unemployed graduates of middle school and high school,” he said, without elaborating.
Last month, the New York Times obtained 403 documents on Beijing’s controversial crackdown on mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in the northwest region, including unpublished speeches by Chinese President Xi Jinping who urged officials to show “absolutely no mercy.”
A leak of government documents by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that followed, showed how local officials were ordered to monitor camp detainees and prevent their escape.
After initially denying the existence of re-education camps, Beijing acknowledged it had opened “vocational education centres” in Xinjiang aimed at preventing extremism by teaching Mandarin and job skills.
Former detainees describe Xinjiang facilities as indoctrination camps that are part of a campaign to eradicate Uighur culture and religion.
Rights groups and foreign media, including AFP, have reported that official documents and satellite images show the facilities are equipped and run like prisons.
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