What it's like in one of China's detention camps in Xinjiang

I wasn’t going to write about China any more today but I have a feeling that looking back in a few years we’re all going to wonder why people didn’t write about it a lot more. So with that in mind, there’s an excellent piece at Buzzfeed about what life is like in one of the Xinjiang detention camps for ethnic minorities. This part three of a three part series. I wrote about part 2 here.  The latest entry focuses on one particular camp based on interviews with three people who have left the region and are therefore able to speak about it without fear of consequences. This is the stuff of which conservative nightmares are made:

This massive detention center, the size of 13 football fields, is a cog in the largest-scale detention of ethnic and religious minorities in the world since World War II, in which 1 million or more Muslims, including Uighurs, Kazakhs, and others, have been rounded up and detained in China’s western region of Xinjiang. Publicly, China has claimed that Muslim detainees have been freed. Yet an ongoing BuzzFeed News investigation, based on dozens of interviews with survivors and thousands of satellite images, has exposed how China has built a vast and permanent infrastructure for mass detention in Xinjiang, marking a radical shift away from the government’s makeshift use of preexisting public buildings at the beginning of the campaign. Using the same techniques that revealed the scale of China’s expanding network of detention centers, BuzzFeed News can now expose the inner workings of one such compound. The Mongolküre facility is one of at least 260 newly built sites bearing the hallmarks of long-term detention centers capable of holding hundreds of thousands of people in total servitude to the state.

Buzzfeed doesn’t name it’s three sources but has clearly spent a lot of time talking to them about fine details of their captivity in the camps. This particular camp started as a single building but was later expanded into a much large facility with a 10 foot wall around it and guards with dogs at the entrance. Once they were put inside, detainees spent nearly all of their time packed tightly in rooms for a dozen or more people. They were allowed to go outside the main building once every few weeks:

The detainees were taken to exercise within the small open spaces inside the camps about once every few weeks, they remembered. After being inside for so long, it felt strange to see the sky above them…

The rooms, which could house more than a dozen people, were about 14.1 feet long (4.3 meters) and 20 feet wide (6.1 meters), according to a BuzzFeed News architectural analysis — a little over half the size of a two-car garage. The detainees spent nearly all their time there, often as many as 23 hours a day…

Before meals, the detainees would be asked to stand and sing patriotic Chinese songs like “Socialism Is Good” and “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China,” both popular during the Mao era.

During the days, the detainees were usually required to go to class for about an hour to study the Chinese language and political dogma, like the party slogan “love the Communist Party and love the country.”

Any violations of the camp rules resulted in a beating. One of the sources, called Ulan, remembers an instance when guards watching on security cameras heard someone speak in their native Kazakh:

“Director Ma came into our room, asked everyone to stand facing the window, and then called their names out one by one,” Ulan remembered.

Raising an electric baton, Ma beat them over their backs. Ulan remembers the screaming. “Their screams must have scared everyone in the building,” he said.

Ulan was last in line. He felt his body tense, waiting for the blow. But Ma paused, telling the detainees that if anyone dared to speak a language other than Chinese again, they would be sent to solitary confinement for a week.

Then Ma raised his arm and struck.

What Buzzfeed is describing is a prison camp. But keep in mind that no one inside has been charged with a crime much less convicted of anything. They are there because of their ethnic background and religion. And they can remain there for years or longer. The three sources Buzzfeed spoke to were all considered low-risk prisoners. There were two other classes of prisoners who were considered moderate and high risk. You can imagine the kind of treatment they were receiving in the camps.

The takeaway is that China is doing all of this to hundreds of thousands of people right now. The communist state has no problem using violence, ideological compulsion and extended confinement against people within its borders. As we learned during World War II, this situation could easily get much worse. But the real problem is that China would like to see it’s brutal system spread beyond its current borders. As DNI Ratcliffe said today, “Beijing intends to dominate the U.S. and the rest of the planet economically, militarily and technologically.”