The true scale of China’s mass detention campaign in Xinjiang has long stayed secret.

- BUZZ FEED NEWS - JULY 21, 2021 - Megha Rajagopalan & Alison Killing -

Map: Alison Killing for BuzzFeed News

A new BuzzFeed News analysis has found 206 million square feet of space to detain Muslims.

That’s enough to hold 1 million people at the same time.


Here is the most complete picture yet of the staggering scale of China’s prisons and detention camps for Muslims in Xinjiang.

For the first time, BuzzFeed News can reveal the full capacity of China's previously secret network of prisons and detention camps in Xinjiang: enough space to detain more than 1 million people.

BuzzFeed News calculated the floor areas of 347 compounds bearing the hallmarks of prisons and internment camps in the region and compared them to China’s own prison and detention construction standards, which lay out how much space is needed for each person detained or imprisoned.

Earlier estimates, including one extrapolated from three-year-old leaked government data, have suggested that a total of more than a million Muslims have been detained or imprisoned over the last five years, with an unknown number released during that time. Our unprecedented analysis goes further, showing that China has built space to lock up at least 1.01 million people in Xinjiang at the same time.

That’s enough space to detain or incarcerate more than 1 in every 25 residents of Xinjiang simultaneously — a figure seven times higher than the criminal detention capacity of the United States, the country with the highest official incarceration rate in the world.

Even this extraordinary capacity is very likely an underestimate, for a simple reason: It does not take into account the suffocating overcrowding that many former Xinjiang detainees have described in interviews.

Since last year, BuzzFeed News has exposed how China feverishly constructed a permanent mass detention infrastructure in Xinjiang to help carry out its draconian campaign of detention, surveillance, forced labor, and repression targeting Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities. This new analysis is the most clear and complete picture to date of the system’s scale and capacity.

The findings reflect what researchers, UN officials, and Western governments have long held: that China’s detention campaign in Xinjiang is the largest targeting a religious minority since the Nazi camps during World War II.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to a detailed list of questions for this story sent to the Chinese Consulate-General in New York. It has previously called estimates of a million Muslims detained in Xinjiang a “groundless lie,” and has said that its facilities in Xinjiang are “vocational education and training centers” designed to “root out extreme thoughts.” These centers, a top Xinjiang government official said in 2018, are meant to “to get rid of the environment and soil that breeds terrorism and religious extremism and stop violent terrorist activities from happening.”

The campaign to lock up Muslims in Xinjiang started in 2016 as a scramble, with schools and other public buildings turned into makeshift detention centers. But it quickly evolved into a sophisticated network of newly constructed prisons and camps that blankets almost every corner of the sparsely populated but vast Xinjiang region, which is about the same size as Alaska.

The course of camp and prison construction suggests that the government carefully orchestrated the campaign. The pattern of new detention compounds neatly fits the geography of counties and prefectures across Xinjiang, with a camp and detention center in most counties and a prison or two per prefecture. As the new, high-security detention centers were being built — a process that takes about a year from idea to completion — the Chinese government commandeered schools, hospitals, and apartment buildings and quickly converted them into makeshift camps. This twin process allowed Beijing to immediately detain hundreds of thousands of Muslims until its vast new detention infrastructure was complete.


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