GENEVA (Reuters) – France and Germany have called on China to close “re-education camps” in its restive far western region of Xinjiang where up to one million Uighurs and other Muslims are thought to be held for political indoctrination as pressure grows for UN action.
Reports of mass detentions and strict surveillance of the Turkic minority in Xinjiang have sparked a growing international outcry since coming to light last month.
Beijing says Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists. Officials deny mistreating Muslims there, instead saying they are putting some people through “vocational” style courses to prevent militancy spreading.
China has blamed a group called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement for many of the attacks in recent years in Xinjiang, though some experts have questioned whether the group exists in any coherent form.
The calls by European powers at the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday coincided with the first side-event held on the politically sensitive issue.
“What we are seeing now in East Turkestan is more than just repression, it is an intentional campaign of assimilation by the Chinese government targeting the Uighur identity,” Dolkun Isa, president of the exiled World Uyghur Congress, told the panel.
“Everything that makes us unique, our language, our culture, our religion – is under attack… Every Uighur family in the diaspora has a family member detained in the camps,” he said.
“Mass imprisonment of more than one million people cannot be justified on any grounds,” Isa said. “U.N. member states have an absolute obligation to act immediately.”
Inmates include his brother and at least 56 professors at Xinjiang University, he said.
Adrian Zenz is a German academic and expert on Chinese minority policy whose research is based on government documents and accounts of visitors to the remote region.