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Yesterday German outlet Deutsche Welle published an exclusive story based on interviews with four former detainees at Chinese re-education camps in the western province of Xinjiang. All four described a day, after months of incarceration and propaganda, when officials handed them a list of crimes and told them to choose the ones to which they wanted to confess.
“They threatened us: ‘if you don’t pick anything, that means you did not confess your crime. If you don’t confess, you will stay here forever.’ That’s why we picked one crime,” one female detainee who was imprisoned in March 2018 told DW.
Religious activities considered illegal are often as vague as "disrupting social order," according to Timothy Grose, a Xinjiang expert at the Indiana-based Rose-Hulman Institute. "Officials can basically interpret them any way they want," he told DW. "The entire (legal) system is just silly, it's arbitrary."
Since 2016, the Chinese government has been arresting ethnic Uighurs and Kazakhs and imprisoning them in what is officially called "Vocational Education Training Centers," but have been referred to in the West as "re-education" camps.
It is hard to say exactly how many people have been imprisoned. According to estimates, at least 1 million of the roughly 10 million Uighurs and Kazakhs living in Xinjiang have disappeared into the vast network of prisons and camps.