Most were incarcerated for ‘serious crimes’ like praying, an official who worked there says.
By Shohret Hoshur
A security guard keeps watch over a detention facility from a tower in Yarkent county in northwestern China's Xinjiang region, March 21, 2021.
Nearly 800 Uyghurs are being held in a detention camp in Manas county in northwestern China’s Xinjiang, said an official from the area who previously worked at the facility.
Manas county (in Chinese, Manasi) is part of the Changji Hui (Changji Huizu) Autonomous Prefecture and covers an area of nearly 9,200 square kilometers (3,550 square miles).
The camp is divided into two adjacent sections, with one housing about 500 male detainees and the other holding about 270 women — all of whom are ethnic minority Uyghurs, said the official, who did not give his name but said he worked at the detention center for four months.
The official also said that the Uyghur inmates had been arrested for committing “serious crimes,” such as praying, and that inside the facility they learned “the national language” of Mandarin Chinese.
“They were divided by an iron fence — males about 500 and females about 270,” he said. “There was no torture of women. They were taught Chinese. These ones [committed] serious crimes — people who prayed five times a day.”
Chinese authorities have targeted and arrested Muslim Uyghur businessmen, intellectuals, and cultural and religious figures in Xinjiang for years as part of a campaign to monitor, control and assimilate members of the minority group.
At least 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities are believed to have been held in a network of detention camps in Xinjiang since 2017, purportedly to prevent religious extremism and terrorist activities.
Beijing has said that the camps are vocational training centers. The government has denied widespread allegations that it has tortured people in the camps or mistreated other Muslims living in Xinjiang.
Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture has a population of more than 1.6 million people, according to China’s latest census data on Xinjiang issued in June 2021.
Among the residents of prefecture are members of the Xinjiang Construction and Production Corps, a state-owned economic and paramilitary organization based in Manas. The corps, which also is known as Bingtuan, has been sanctioned by the U.S. for its alleged involvement in human rights violations against Uyghurs.
Relatively few Uyghurs live in the county. Census figures put Manas’ population at 247,000 people, of whom only 6,200 are Uyghurs, or about 2.5 percent of the total. The 19,513 ethnic Kazakhs who also live there account for 7.9 percent of its population.
Earlier RFA reports found that many Kazakhs had been detained in internment camps in Manas and Kuytun (Kuitun), a county-level city in Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture, which is also in the northern part of Xinjiang.
In other earlier reports, sources said a large number of detainees in the Ghulja (Yining) area had been transferred to Manas county and to the cities of Shiho (Wusu) and Urumqi (Wulumuqi), which is Xinjiang’s capital.
In early January, RFA reported on the disappearance and imprisonment of Hasiyet Ehmet, a 57-year-old resident of Manas who is serving a 14-year prison sentence for teaching children the Quran and hiding two copies of the sacred text during a time when police began confiscating religious books from residents.
RFA reported that additional internment camps may be operating in Manas, despite the relatively low number of Uyghurs who live there.
RFA contacted police stations, prisons and judiciary offices in Manas county in an effort to find out the number of detention camps operating there, but most officials who were reached said they were not authorized to provide any information.
One said there was only one internment camp in the county, although he did not state its location. Another official said the camp was located inside the county center but could not comment on the number of detainees.
“There’s only one in Manas. It is in the county center,” he said.
When RFA asked one of the officials how many Kazakhs were in the camp in Manas county, he initially said there are none before declining to comment.
“There are no Kazakhs. Don’t ask this. We are not allowed to speak about this,” he said.
Global attention continues to focus on Xinjiang and the well-documented allegations of abuse.
On Thursday, the House of Lords in the United Kingdom passed an amendment to ensure the country’s National Health Service, the publicly funded health care system in England, cannot purchase goods or services from a region where there is a serious risk of genocide.
Last year, the British Parliament designated that abuses against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang constituted a genocide.
The NHS measure, which still must be approved by the House of Commons, drew praise from Uyghur rights groups.
In response to the amendment’s passage, Rahima Mahmut, U.K. director of the World Uyghur Congress, tweeted: “I'm deeply grateful to everyone who has worked so tirelessly on this amendment so far … I know how much this win means for our community.”
Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.