China has been sending vast numbers of Muslims to internment camps since last year, where it tries to force them to renounce Islam and embrace the Communist Party, as The New York Times and other media outlets have reported.
Almost 1 million Muslims are being held in the camps, according to an estimate widely cited by the United Nations and U.S. officials. China has denied that it aims to indoctrinate Muslims in the camps, telling a UN panel that there is no such thing as re-education centres, even though the Chinese government’s own documents have referred to them as such.
China claims that those camps are just vocational schools for criminals, and journalists have described attempts to keep them away from the heavily guarded sites.
Timothy Grose, a Chinese scholar involved in this effort, which he characterized as virtual detective work. Using a simple process, he said he found photos of a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a recently built facility in Xinjiang, along with a local-government press release. “They have officials standing in front of a gate, and the gate quite clearly says in Chinese and Uighur ‘re-education centre,’” he said.
Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology in Germany, has found and listed more than 70 of them. Many bids specify that the compounds must include high walls, watchtowers, barbed wire, surveillance systems, facilities for armed police forces, and other security features.
Shawn Zhang, a 29-year-old Chinese law student in Canada, has been playing an important role, he began hunting for information on what was happening in Xinjiang by searching the internet for “re-education centre” using Baidu and Google. He, too, noticed the construction bids, many of which specified where the camps were to be built. Then he took an additional step: He plugged the location information into Google Earth and found satellite imagery of what appeared to camp.
Seeing the satellite imagery convinced him that it really was possible that Muslims were being detained en masse in China and that some of the camps kept growing, month after month. However, China denies this.
In August, a United Nations human rights panel reported that up to one million Muslims in China were forced into grounds that resemble massive internment camps in Xinjiang, the autonomous region in western China home to approximately 10 million Uighur Muslims.