Beijing tightened controls and surveillance of Xinjiang’s population after an eruption of violence aimed at Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group in China, in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, in 2009 and an attack in Beijing in 2013 attributed to Uighur Muslims.
But the authorities drastically increased the scale and intensity of the crackdown after the arrival of Chen Quanguo as the Communist Party secretary in charge of the region in August 2016 and the promulgation of a “de-extremification” ordinance in early 2017.
More than one-fifth of all arrests in China in 2017 occurred in Xinjiang, whose 11 million people make up less than 2 percent of China’s population, the Hong Kong-based advocacy group China Human Rights Defenders said in a report last week drawing on official data.
Scholars and activists estimate that a million people are now held in hundreds of re-education camps across Xinjiang and that roughly two million other people are undergoing some form of coercive re-education or indoctrination.
“There’s no legal basis, none, for people to be held this way,” Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, observed. “There is no warrant, there is no crime, there is no calling a lawyer, there is no calling your family, there is no knowing when you are going to get out, there is no knowing what you have been charged with.”
In Xinjiang, Mr. Chen, who previously spent a decade as the party boss in Tibet, nearly doubled the security budget for the region, stepped up recruitment of police officers, built more police stations, sent ethnic Han cadres to stay with Uighur families and installed surveillance cameras and facial recognition technology.
Dr. Zenz estimated that the Chinese authorities had built 1,000 to 1,200 internment camps. There are also reports that the authorities have stepped up construction of orphanages to accommodate children of those detained.