July 22, 2021 1:16 am
DABANCHENG, China — The Uyghur inmates sat in uniform rows with their legs crossed in lotus position and their backs ramrod straight, numbered and tagged, gazing at a television playing grainy black-and-white images of Chinese Communist Party history.
This is one of an estimated 240 cells in just one section of Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center in Dabancheng, seen by Associated Press journalists granted extraordinary access during a state-led tour to China’s far west Xinjiang region. The detention
Chinese officials declined to say how many inmates were there, saying the number varied. But the AP estimated the
This site suggests that China still holds and plans to hold vast numbers of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in detention. Satellite imagery shows that new buildings stretching almost a mile long were added to the Dabancheng detention facility in 2019.
China has described its sweeping lockup of a million or more minorities over the past four years as a “war against terror,” after a series of knifings and bombings by a small number of extremist Uyghurs native to Xinjiang. Among its most controversial aspects were the so-called vocational “training
China at first denied their existence, and then, under heavy international criticism, said in 2019 that all the occupants had “graduated.” But the AP’s visit to Dabancheng, satellite imagery and interviews with experts and former detainees suggest that while many “training
The changes seem to be an attempt to move from the makeshift and extrajudicial “training
However, researchers say many innocent people were often thrown in detention for things like going abroad or attending religious gatherings. Darren Byler, an anthropologist studying the Uyghurs at the University of Colorado, noted that many prisoners have not committed “real crimes by any standards,” and that they go through a “show” trial without due process.
“We’re moving from a police state to a mass incarceration state. Hundreds of thousands of people have disappeared from the population,” Byler said. “It’s the criminalization of normal
During the April tour of No. 3 in Dabancheng, officials repeatedly distanced it from the “training
“There was no connection between our detention
They also said the No. 3
“See, the BBC report said this was a re-education camp. It’s not – it’s a detention
However, despite the claims of officials, the evidence shows No. 3 was indeed an internment camp. A Reuters picture of the entrance in September 2018 shows that the facility used to be called the “Urumqi Vocational Skills Education and Training Center”. Publicly available documents collected by Shawn Zhang, a law student in Canada, confirm that a
Records also show that Chinese conglomerate Hengfeng Information Technology won an $11 million contract for outfitting the Urumqi “training
A former construction contractor who visited the Dabancheng facility in 2018 told the AP that it was the same as the “Urumqi Vocational Skills Education and Training Center,” and had been converted to a detention facility in 2019, with the nameplate switched. He declined to be named for fear of retaliation against his family.
“All the former students inside became prisoners,” he said.
The vast complex is ringed by 25-feet-tall concrete walls painted blue, watchtowers, and humming electric wire. Officials led AP journalists through the main entrance, past face-scanning turnstiles and rifle-toting guards in military camouflage.
In one corner of the compound, masked inmates sat in rigid formation. Most appeared to be Uyghur. Zhu Hongbin, the
“They’re totally unbreakable,” he said, his voice muffled beneath head-to-toe medical gear.
At the control room, staff gazed at a wall-to-wall, God’s-eye display of some two dozen screens streaming footage from each cell. Another panel played programming from state broadcaster CCTV, which Zhu said was being shown to the inmates.
“We control what they watch,” Zhu said. “We can see if they’re breaking regulations, or if they might hurt or kill themselves.”
“They need to be taught why it’s bad to kill people, why it’s bad to steal,” Zhu said.
Twenty-two rooms with chairs and computers allow inmates to chat with lawyers, relatives, and police via video, as they are strapped to their seats. Down the corridor, an office houses a branch of the Urumqi prosecutor’s office, in another sign of the switch to a formal prison system.
A nearby medical room contains a gurney, a tank of oxygen and a cabinet stocked with medicine. Guidelines hanging on the wall instruct staff on the proper protocol to deal with sick inmates – and also to force-feed inmates on hunger strikes by inserting tubes up their noses.
Zhao, the other official, said inmates are held for 15 days to a year before trial depending on their suspected crime, and the legal process is the same as in the rest of China. He said the
Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center is comparable in size to Rikers Island in New York City, but the region serves less than four million people compared to nearly 20 million for Rikers. At least three other detention
The No. 3
Xu Guixiang, a Xinjiang spokesperson, called the higher incarceration rates “severe measures” in the “war against terror.”
“Of course, during this process, the number of people sentenced in accordance with the law will increase. This is a concrete indication of our work efficiency,” Xu said. “By taking these measures, terrorists are more likely to be brought to justice.”
But many relatives of those imprisoned say they were sentenced on spurious charges, and experts caution that the opacity of the Xinjiang legal system is a red flag. Although China makes legal records easily accessible otherwise, almost 90
Researcher Gene Bunin found that Uyghurs were made to sign confessions for what the authorities called “terrorist activities.” Some were subsequently released, including one detained in the Dabancheng facility, a relative told The Associated Press, declining to be named to avoid retribution against the former detainee.
Others were not. Police reports obtained by the Intercept detail the case of eight Uyghurs in one Urumqi
AP journalists did not witness any signs of torture or beating at the facility, and were unable to speak directly to any former or current detainees. But a Uyghur who had fled Xinjiang, Zumret Dawut, said a now-deceased friend who worked at Dabancheng had witnessed treatment so brutal that she fainted. The friend, Paride Amati, said she had seen a pair of teens forced to sign confessions claiming they were involved in terrorism while studying in Egypt, and their skin had been beaten bloody and raw.
A teacher at the Dabancheng facility also called it “worse than hell,” according to a colleague at a different camp, Qelbinur Sedik. The teacher said that during classes she could hear the sounds of people being tortured with electric batons and iron chairs, according to Sedik.
Accounts of conditions in detention
Chinese officials also continue to deny that they are holding Uyghurs on false charges. Down the road from the No. 3
When asked what it was, officials pleaded ignorance.
“We don’t know what it is,” they said.
Dake Kang, The Associated Press