At least 150 Uyghur Muslims died over the course of six months while imprisoned at one of the Chinese communist regime’s concentration camps, according to a report from Radio Free Asia (RFA).
The news agency, whose reporters spoke with an official source at the Kuchar County Police Department in Xinjiang region, confirmed that at least 150 people have died over a six month period at the largest camp in the Yengisher district of the county seat, about ten kilometers (six miles) from Kuchar city center. However, that figure could be closer to 200.
The source had knowledge of the deaths, as he had worked at the camp from June to December 2018, but could not provide further information about any deaths that may have occurred at the camp before or after he left. The reports appear to corroborate similar claims put out by Kuchar County Police Chief Himit Qari, who was arrested after expressing his concerns over abuses taking place in the camps while attending a party at a friend’s house this year.
While attending the gathering, Qari confessed that “many people had died” at the same concentration camp where he helped oversee the mass internment program that began in mid-2017. Weeks after his admission, Qari was summoned by the Kuchar County Public Security Bureau’s disciplinary office for further investigation, before being sent to prison on charges of “revealing state secrets” and criminal trial.
Since 2017, Chinese communist officials in Beijing have ordered the imprisonment of approximately 1.5 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities across Xinjiang. The aim is to indoctrinate them into the ideals of Chinese nationalism and communist ideology, forcing them to disavow their allegiance to Islam, engaging in slave labor, receiving forced sterilization or birth control, and, according to some reports, being used as live organ donors.
There have also been reports of killings in Xinjiang’s internment camps. RFA also reported that a man Chinese authorities claimed had suffered a fatal heart attack while imprisoned in a detention center was actually beaten to death by a drunken police officer.
The RFA report released this week, despite using evidence from 2018, before the acceleration of internment of Muslims, marks the largest known number of detention-related deaths at any single internment camp since their inception two years ago. Given the dramatic increase in estimated prisoners at each facility and their rapid construction, the total death toll is likely significantly higher.
Beijing has aggressively denied widespread accusations that they are being used as a repressive apparatus, insisting they are instead “voluntary de-radicalization camps” and “vocational training centers” to help ethnic minorities integrate into Chinese society. They also claim the camps are a necessary measure to prevent terrorism following various Islamist inspired attacks over the past decades.