The cone of silence around China’s Muslim ‘gulags’

By Ishaan Tharoor | The Washington Post

It’s unclear how many people are living in some sort of detention in Xinjiang, the restive region in China’s far west.

Last month, a State Department official testified before a Senate committee that Chinese authorities have “indefinitely detained at least 800,000 and possibly more than 2 million Uighurs, ethnic Khazaks and other members of Muslim minorities in internment camps” since April 2017. What foreign reporting has been possible in Xinjiang — which Beijing has subjected to a draconian lockdown — has revealed a vast network of “reeducation centers,” barbed-wire-ringed compounds and factories that have housed possibly more than a tenth of the region’s population of Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim minority.

Chinese authorities wave away the “fake” reports as “hearsay,” arguing that the measures are necessary to curb Islamist extremism among Uighurs and relieve many in the population of their “backwardness.” Last week, in a bid to dispel negative headlines, local officials took a handful of journalists on a tour of three facilities in Xinjiang where interned locals were receiving “vocational training” after falling afoul of Chinese authorities.