China has said it has arrested nearly 13,000 people it describes as terrorists in the traditionally Islamic region of Xinjiang since 2014 and broken up hundreds of “terrorist gangs.”
The figures were included in a government report on the situation in the restive northwestern territory that seeks to respond to growing criticism over the internment of an estimated one million members of the Uighur and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups.
China has described the camps as vocational training centres and said the participation is voluntary. Former detainees, however, said they were held in abusive conditions, forced to renounce Islam and swear allegiance to China’s ruling Communist Party.
The lengthy report issued on Monday also said the “law-based de-radicalisation” in Xinjiang has curbed the rise and spread of religious extremism.
It said 1,588 terrorist gangs have been crushed and 12,995 terrorists seized since 2014. Over that time, 2,052 explosive devices were seized and more than 30,000 people punished for taking part in almost 5,000 “illegal religious activities,” the report said. It added that 345,229 copies of “illegal religious publicity materials,” were also seized.
It has spent decades trying to suppress pro-independence sentiment fueled in part by frustration about an influx of migrants from China’s Han majority. Beijing Authorities said extremists there have ties to foreign terror groups but have given little evidence to support that.
Despite the region’s religious, linguistic and cultural differences with the rest of country, China says Xinjiang has been Chinese territory since ancient times.
In addition to their answering concerns about violence, experts and Uighur activists believe the camps are part of an aggressive government campaign to erode the identities of the Central Asian groups who called the region home long before waves of Han migrants arrived in recent decades.
Monday’s paper sought to underplay Islam’s role in the region’s historical makeup, saying that while it “cannot be denied that Xinjiang received the influence of Islamic culture,” that did not change the “objective fact” that Xinjiang’s culture is merely a facet of Chinese culture.
“Islam is not the natural faith of the Uighurs and other ethnicities, nor is it their only faith,” the report said.