Satellite imagery captured over a remote and highly volatile region of western China lifts the lid on the size and spread of internment camps used to indoctrinate vast numbers of the region’s Muslim population.
An investigation by ABC News using new research collated by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) think tank, identifies and documents the expansion of 28 detention camps that are part of a massive program of subjugation in the region of Xinjiang.
Analysis of the data shows that since the start of 2017, the 28 facilities have expanded their footprint by more than 2 million square metres. In the past three months alone, they’ve grown by 700,000 square metres – that’s about the size of 35 Melbourne Cricket Grounds.
The nominally autonomous province is home to about 14 million Chinese citizens belonging to mainly Muslim ethnic groups, the largest of which is the Turkic-speaking Uighur (pronounced WEE-ger) people.
Xinjiang, which means “new frontier”, has long been the epicentre of ethnic unrest. At the heart of the conflict is a separatist movement which seeks to establish an independent Uighur homeland called East Turkestan.
Beijing, which views the region as an incubator of terrorism, has responded by reinforcing local security forces, expanding the network of police stations and checkpoints, and supercharging its electronic surveillance network.
“What we’re seeing here is a breach of human rights that is of such a scale that we haven’t seen since the post Tiananmen Square crackdown in China,” said Fergus Ryan, an analyst and China expert at ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre.
An estimated two million Uighurs and other Muslims have been rounded up and detained in these camps where they are forced to undergo patriotic training and “de-extremification”, according to witnesses and human rights groups.
China at first denied the existence of the camps. But under intense international scrutiny ahead of a UN review into its human rights record next week, officials have changed tack. After retrospectively legalising the dragnet, Beijing launched a propaganda campaign portraying the camps as humane job training centres.
But the growing weight of testimony of victims, witnesses, and now the availability of high resolution satellite imagery, reveals the fast-tracked expansion of a re-education camp network that appears set to become a permanent feature of life in Xinjiang.
“By detaining such a huge amount of people for no legal reason China is really running the risk of radicalising these people and creating the perfect conditions for violent extremism to happen in the future,” warns Mr Ryan.
See Satellite imagery here.