That is Half 1 of a BuzzFeed Information investigation. For Half 2, click on here. For Half 3, click on here.

This challenge was supported by the Open Technology Fund, the Pulitzer Center, and the Eyebeam Center for the Future of Journalism.

China has secretly constructed scores of large new jail and internment camps prior to now three years, dramatically escalating its marketing campaign in opposition to Muslim minorities even because it publicly claimed the detainees had all been set free. The development of those purpose-built, high-security camps — some able to housing tens of 1000’s of individuals — indicators a radical shift away from the nation’s earlier makeshift use of public buildings, like colleges and retirement houses, to an enormous and everlasting infrastructure for mass detention.

In essentially the most intensive investigation of China’s internment camp system ever finished utilizing publicly obtainable satellite tv for pc photos, coupled with dozens of interviews with former detainees, BuzzFeed Information recognized greater than 260 buildings constructed since 2017 and bearing the hallmarks of fortified detention compounds. There’s no less than one in almost each county within the far-west area of Xinjiang. Throughout that point, the investigation exhibits, China has established a sprawling system to detain and incarcerate lots of of 1000’s of Uighurs, Kazakhs, and different Muslim minorities, in what’s already the largest-scale detention of ethnic and spiritual minorities since World Battle II.

These forbidding services — together with a number of constructed or considerably expanded throughout the final 12 months — are a part of the federal government’s unprecedented marketing campaign of mass detention of greater than one million individuals, which started in late 2016. That 12 months Chen Quanguo, the area’s prime official and Communist Occasion boss, whom the US recently sanctioned over human rights abuses, additionally put Muslim minorities — greater than half the area’s inhabitants of about 25 million — below perpetual surveillance through facial recognition cameras, cellphone monitoring, checkpoints, and heavy-handed human policing. They’re additionally topic to many different abuses, starting from sterilization to forced labor.

To detain 1000’s of individuals in brief order, the federal government repurposed previous colleges and different buildings. Then, because the variety of detainees swelled, in 2018 the federal government started constructing new services with far larger safety measures and extra everlasting architectural options, akin to heavy concrete partitions and guard towers, the BuzzFeed Information evaluation exhibits. Prisons usually take years to construct, however a few of these new compounds took lower than six months, in response to historic satellite tv for pc information. The federal government has additionally added extra factories inside camp and jail compounds throughout that point, suggesting the growth of forced labor throughout the area. Development was nonetheless ongoing as of this month.

“Persons are dwelling in horror in these locations,” stated 49-year-old Zhenishan Berdibek, who was detained in a camp within the Tacheng area for a lot of 2018. “Among the youthful individuals weren’t as tolerant as us — they cried and screamed and shouted.” However Berdibek, a most cancers survivor, couldn’t muster the power. As she watched the youthful girls get dragged away to solitary confinement, “I misplaced my hope,” she stated. “I wished to die contained in the camp.”

BuzzFeed Information recognized 268 newly constructed compounds by cross-referencing blanked-out areas on Baidu Maps — a Google Maps–like device that’s extensively utilized in China — with photos from exterior satellite tv for pc information suppliers. These compounds usually contained a number of detention services.

This map exhibits the areas of services bearing the hallmarks of prisons and internment camps discovered on this investigation. Be aware: Many satellite tv for pc photos on this map are from earlier than 2017, which means that though you possibly can zoom in, you gained’t at all times be capable of see the proof of potential camps.

Areas recognized or corroborated by different sources. Satellite tv for pc photos — perimeter partitions and guard towers. Satellite tv for pc photos — partitions and barbed wire however no guard towers. Detention Middle constructed earlier than 2017. Doubtless used for detention prior to now however now closed or diminished safety.
BuzzFeed Information; Supply: Evaluation of satellite tv for pc imagery utilizing Google Earth, Planet Labs, and the European Area Company’s Sentinel Hub

Ninety-two of those services have been recognized or verified as detention facilities by different sources, akin to authorities procurement paperwork, tutorial analysis, or, in 19 circumstances, visits by journalists.

One other 176 services have been established by satellite tv for pc imagery alone. The pictures often present thick partitions on the perimeter, and sometimes, barbed wire fencing that creates pens and corridors within the courtyards. Many compounds within the area are walled, however the services recognized by BuzzFeed Information have a lot heavier fortifications. At 121 of those compounds, in addition they present guard towers, usually constructed into the perimeter wall.

In response to an in depth checklist of questions on this text in addition to an inventory of GPS coordinates of services recognized on this article, the Chinese language Consulate in New York stated “the difficulty regarding Xinjiang is in no way about human rights, faith or ethnicity, however about combating violent terrorism and separatism,” including that it was a “groundless lie” that one million Uighurs have been detained within the area.

“Xinjiang has arrange vocational training and coaching facilities as a way to root out excessive ideas, improve the rule of legislation consciousness by training, enhance vocational abilities and create employment alternatives for them, in order that these affected by excessive and violent concepts can return to society as quickly as potential,” the consulate added, saying human rights are protected within the facilities and that “trainees have freedom of motion.” But it surely additionally in contrast its program to “obligatory applications for terrorist criminals” it stated are happening in different nations together with the US and UK.

China’s International Ministry and Baidu didn’t reply to repeated requests for remark.

The brand new services are scattered throughout each populated space of the area, and several other are massive sufficient to accommodate 10,000 prisoners at a minimal, based mostly on their measurement and architectural options. (One of many reporters on this story is a licensed architect.)

In contrast to early websites, the brand new services seem extra everlasting and prisonlike, related in development to high-security prisons in different components of China. Probably the most extremely fortified compounds supply little house between buildings, tiny concrete-walled yards, heavy masonry development, and lengthy networks of corridors with cells down both aspect. Their layouts are cavernous, permitting little pure gentle to the inside of the buildings. BuzzFeed Information might see how rooms have been laid out at some high-security services by analyzing historic satellite tv for pc images taken as they have been being constructed, together with images of buildings with out roofs.

With no less than tens of 1000’s of detainees crowded into authorities buildings repurposed as camps by the tip of 2017, the federal government started constructing the biggest new services within the spring of 2018. A number of have been full by October 2018, with additional services constructed by 2019 and development of a handful extra persevering with even now.

The federal government has stated its camps are colleges and vocational coaching facilities the place detainees are “deradicalized.” The federal government’s own internal documentation about its insurance policies in Xinjiang has used the term “focus,” or 集中, to explain “academic colleges.”

The federal government claims that its marketing campaign combats extremism within the area. However most who find yourself in these services will not be extremists of any kind.

Downloading WhatsApp, which is banned in China, sustaining ties with household overseas, participating in prayer, and visiting a foreign website are all offenses for which Muslims have been despatched to camps, in response to beforehand leaked documents and interviews with former detainees. As a result of the federal government doesn’t contemplate internment camps to be a part of the prison justice system and none of those behaviors are crimes below Chinese language legislation, no detainees have been formally arrested or charged with against the law, not to mention seen a day in courtroom.

The compounds BuzzFeed Information recognized seemingly embody extrajudicial internment camps — which maintain people who find themselves not suspected of any crime — in addition to prisons. Each kinds of services have safety features that carefully resemble one another. Xinjiang’s jail inhabitants has grown massively throughout the federal government’s marketing campaign: In 2017, the region had 21% of all arrests in China, regardless of making up lower than 2% of the nationwide inhabitants — an eightfold enhance from the 12 months earlier than, in response to a New York Occasions analysis of presidency information. As a result of China’s Communist Occasion–managed courts have a greater than 99% conviction charge, the overwhelming majority of these arrests seemingly resulted in convictions.

“At some point I noticed a pregnant girl in shackles. One other girl had a child in her arms, she was breastfeeding.”

Individuals detained within the camps advised BuzzFeed Information they have been subjected to torture, starvation, overcrowding, solitary confinement, pressured contraception, and a variety of different abuses. They stated they have been put by brainwashing applications specializing in Communist Occasion propaganda and made to talk solely within the Chinese language language. Some former detainees stated they have been pressured to labor with out pay in factories.

The federal government closely restricts the actions of impartial journalists and researchers within the area, and closely censors the web and its personal home media. Muslim minorities may be punished for posts on social media. However satellite tv for pc photos which can be collected from impartial suppliers stay exterior the scope of Chinese language authorities censorship.

Different kinds of proof have additionally often leaked out. In September, a drone video emerged exhibiting lots of of blindfolded males with their heads shaven and their arms tied behind their backs, sporting vests that say “Kashgar Detention Middle.” Nathan Ruser, a researcher on the Australian Strategic Coverage Institute who has finished intensive satellite tv for pc imagery evaluation of the detention and jail methods in Xinjiang, said the video exhibits a prisoner switch that passed off in April 2019 — months after the federal government first stated the system was for vocational coaching. Earlier analyses, including by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in November 2018, recognized a number of dozen early camps.

“The internment and assimilation program in Xinjiang has the general logic of colonial genocides in North America, the formalized racism of apartheid, the industrial-scale internment of Germany’s focus camps, and the police-state penetration into on a regular basis lifetime of North Korea,” stated Rian Thum, a scholar of the historical past of Islam in China on the College of Nottingham.

The marketing campaign has finished deep harm to many Muslim minority teams — however particularly Uighurs, who’re by far essentially the most populous ethnic minority group in Xinjiang and would not have ties to another nation. The Chinese language authorities has closely penalized expressions of Turkic minority tradition, from Kazakh- and Uighur-language training to the follow of Islam exterior of state-controlled mosques. This, mixed with pressured sterilizations, has led some critics to say that the marketing campaign qualifies as genocide under international law. The Trump administration is reportedly discussing whether or not to formally name it a genocide, and a spokesperson for Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, stated on Tuesday that Biden helps the label.

“These are peaceable individuals in focus camps,” stated Abduweli Ayup, a Uighur linguist who was jailed and later exiled from Xinjiang after opening kindergartens that taught Uighur youngsters in their very own language. “They’re businessmen and students and engineers. They’re our musicians. They’re medical doctors. They’re shopkeepers, restaurant house owners, academics who used Uighur textbooks.

“These are the pillars of our society. With out them, we can’t exist.”

Greg Baker / Getty Photos

The Chinese language flag is seen behind razor wire at a housing compound in Yangisar, south of Kashgar, in China’s western Xinjiang area, June 4, 2019.

The place of Muslim minorities, significantly Uighurs, in China has been fraught for the reason that Communist Occasion got here to energy in 1949. However circumstances deteriorated rapidly beginning in 2016, when the federal government carried out a system of heavy-handed surveillance and policing as a way to push Muslims right into a rising internment camp system for “transformation by training.” Chen, the area’s celebration boss, referred to as on officers to “round up everyone who should be rounded up.”

Hundreds have been. Tursunay Ziyawudun, who was detained in March 2018, was one among them. When she arrived on the camp’s gates, she noticed lots of of individuals round her eradicating their jewellery, shoelaces, and belts. They have been being “processed,” she stated, to enter the camp by a safety checkpoint.

Courtesy Tursenay Ziyawudun

Tursenay Ziyawudun in an undated handout picture.

Early on, the federal government remade colleges, retirement houses, hospitals, and different public buildings into internment camps. There have been different, older detention facilities obtainable too — BuzzFeed Information recognized 47 constructed earlier than 2017 which were used to lock individuals up within the area.

Some detention services are geared towards releasing detainees after a number of months; in others, detainees could also be sentenced to jail phrases, stated Adrian Zenz, a number one researcher on the abuses in Xinjiang. Three former detainees interviewed by BuzzFeed Information stated they have been held for months in detention with none expenses in opposition to them — far longer than is allowed by legislation — earlier than they have been transferred to internment camps. The detentions picked up pace in 2017, and numbers within the camps rapidly swelled till the inmates have been dwelling on prime of one another.

BuzzFeed Information interviewed 28 former detainees from the area, a lot of whom described being blindfolded and handcuffed, very like the boys proven within the video. Many spoke by an interpreter. They’re amongst a tiny minority of former detainees who have been launched and left the nation — however they described a brutal system that they noticed rising and altering with their very own eyes.

Most recalled being often moved from camp to camp — a tactic that many believed was meant to fight overcrowding within the first technology of makeshift services. At first of the marketing campaign, lots of of individuals have been arriving each day. New batches of detainees at all times appeared to be coming and going.

Some former detainees described sleeping two to a twin mattress, and even sleeping in shifts when there was not sufficient room to accommodate all of the detainees. Nearly all stated they acquired meager portions of rice, steamed buns, and porridge, and little or no meat or different protein.

Ekaterina Anchevskaya For BuzzFeed Information

Orynbek Koksybek in Human Rights Initiative workplace the place he works in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Feb. 27.

Orynbek Koksebek, a 40-year-old ethnic Kazakh, was first detained comparatively early within the marketing campaign, across the finish of 2017. At first, he slept in a room with seven different males, and everybody had a mattress to themselves. However inside a number of months, he started to note an increasing number of individuals arriving. “At some point I noticed a pregnant girl in shackles,” he stated. “One other girl had a child in her arms, she was breastfeeding.”

By February 2018, there have been 15 males in his room, he stated.

“A few of us needed to share blankets or sleep on the ground,” he stated. “They advised us later that a few of us can be given jail sentences or transferred to different camps.”

Camp officers repeatedly pressured detainees to memorize Communist Occasion propaganda and Chinese language characters in lecture rooms. However some former detainees stated their services have been too crowded for even this — as an alternative, they needed to sit on plastic stools subsequent to their beds and stare at textbooks, sitting with their backs completely straight whereas cameras monitored them. Camp guards advised them there have been too many individuals to slot in lecture rooms.

For Koksebek, the claustrophobia was insufferable.

“There was a window in our room, nevertheless it was so excessive I couldn’t see a lot apart from a patch of sky,” he stated. “I used to want I have been a chicken so I might have the liberty to fly.”

Police and



Major wall with two layers

of barbed wire on both aspect

The camp at Shufu, in Xinjiang, seen by satellite tv for pc on April 26, 2020. BuzzFeed Information; Google Maps

BuzzFeed Information; Google Maps

The camp at Shufu, in Xinjiang, seen by satellite tv for pc, April 26.

On a frigid, overcast morning final December, Shohrat Zakir, the area’s governor and second-most-powerful official, gave a rare press conference at China’s State Council Info Workplace, positioned in a closed compound in central Beijing. The workplace is one among solely a handful of presidency our bodies in China that repeatedly briefs each native and worldwide journalists, and Zakir sat with 4 different officers at an extended podium on the entrance of the small room. The officers took the chance to tout the area’s financial development and declare China’s marketing campaign in opposition to terrorism in Xinjiang has been successful, calling the US authorities hypocritical for its criticism of China’s human rights abuses. However Zakir was the one who made worldwide headlines.

Of these held within the camps as “trainees,” Zakir painted a rosy image. They “have all graduated, and have realized steady employment with the federal government’s assist, improved their high quality of life, and are having fun with a contented life,” he stated.

At the same time as reporters have been scribbling down his remarks, about 2,500 miles away in Xinjiang, development was wrapping up on an enormous high-security compound close to the Uighur heartland county of Shufu, simply south of a winding river that flows by a countryside dotted by livestock farms. Shufu is small by Chinese language requirements, with a inhabitants of about 300,000 individuals. It has a primary drag with a publish workplace, a lottery ticket vendor, and eateries promoting steamed buns and beef noodle soup. The camp was constructed on farmland lower than a 20-minute drive away.

Earlier than employees began development final March, the land beneath the Shufu web site was farmland too, blanketed with inexperienced vegetation. By August, employees had constructed a thick perimeter enclosure, with guard towers looming within the corners and within the heart of partitions that rise almost 6 meters, or greater than 19 toes, satellite tv for pc photos present. Subsequent got here the buildings inside, organized in U-shaped teams, with two five-story buildings alongside a two-story one forming the bottom of the U. By October, two rows of barbed wire fencing appeared on both aspect of the principle concrete-walled compound, its shadow seen in satellite tv for pc photos.

Simply exterior the partitions, on the western aspect of the compound, two guard buildings have been constructed — distinguished by the slim walled pathways main from them as much as the wall that will permit guards to entry the guard towers and the tops of the partitions for patrols. In entrance of the doorway, a sequence of buildings supplied house for jail workplaces and police buildings. In complete BuzzFeed Information estimates that there’s room for about 10,500 prisoners at this compound — which might assist present a long-term resolution to overcrowding.

“I wasn’t completely happy or unhappy. I couldn’t really feel something. Even once I was reunited with my family in Kazakhstan, they requested me why I didn’t appear completely happy to see them after so lengthy.”

Ruser reviewed satellite tv for pc photos of the compound and stated it was a newly constructed detention camp. “The overwhelming majority of camps have watchtowers, inside fencing, and a robust exterior wall entranceway or exit,” he stated.

In contrast to the previous, repurposed camps, new prisons and camps akin to this one have greater safety, with gates as much as 4 tales tall and thicker partitions alongside their borders, usually with additional layers of barbed wire on both aspect of the principle partitions. These options counsel they’re able to holding a lot bigger teams of individuals in long-term detention.

The camps can comprise not solely cells the place detainees sleep, but in addition lecture rooms, clinics, canteens, stand-alone bathe services, solitary confinement rooms, police buildings, administrative workplaces, and small customer facilities, former detainees advised BuzzFeed Information. Lots of the compounds additionally comprise factories, distinguished by their blue, powder-coated metallic roofs and metal frames, that are seen in satellite tv for pc images taken whereas they have been being constructed. The police buildings, together with for guards and administrative personnel, are normally positioned by the entrances of the compounds.

The areas of those camps and prisons in Xinjiang will not be available. Nonetheless, blanked-out parts of maps on China’s Baidu make it potential to make use of satellite tv for pc imagery to seek out and analyze them.

Satellite tv for pc maps, like Google Earth, are made up of a grid of rectangular tiles. On Baidu, the Chinese language search big that has a map service very like Google’s, BuzzFeed Information found that areas containing camps, navy bases, or different politically delicate services have been overlaid with plain gentle grey tiles. These “masks” tiles appeared upon zooming in on the situation. These look completely different from the darker grey, watermarked tiles that seem when Baidu can’t load one thing. The “masks” tiles have been additionally current at different areas the place camps had been visited and verified by journalists, although they’ve since been eliminated.

Dabancheng District, Ürümqi Prefecture
Baidu; Planet Labs

Shule County, Kashgar Prefecture
Baidu; Planet Labs

Gaochang District, Turpan Prefecture
Baidu; Planet Labs

BuzzFeed Information recognized the compounds utilizing different satellite tv for pc maps — supplied by Google Earth, Planet Labs, and the European Area Company’s Sentinel Hub — which don’t masks these photos. For some areas the place high-resolution photos weren’t publicly obtainable, Planet Labs used its personal satellite tv for pc to take new footage, then supplied them to BuzzFeed Information. Read more here about how this investigation was performed.

The pictures confirmed the services being constructed over a interval of months. Particulars from the photographs supply a way of measurement and scale: Counting the variety of home windows in constructing facades, for instance, exhibits what number of tales they comprise.

Typically, these compounds have been constructed subsequent door to an older jail, sharing parking heaps, administrative services, and police barracks with the older facility, satellite tv for pc photos present.

BuzzFeed Information discovered an extra 50 extra compounds that have been seemingly used for internment prior to now however have misplaced some safety features, together with barbed wire fencing inside compounds used to create rectangular pens, closed passages between buildings, and guard towers, with a small quantity having been demolished.

Ruser and different specialists stated this doesn’t counsel the Chinese language authorities is pulling again from its marketing campaign. A lot of these services seemingly nonetheless function as low-security camps, he stated. The way more vital development in Xinjiang, he stated, is the federal government’s elevated use of higher-security prisons and detention services.

In response to questions, the Chinese language Consulate in New York echoed Zakir’s December assertion.

“All trainees who acquired programs in customary spoken and written Chinese language, understanding of the legislation, vocational abilities, and deradicalization have accomplished their coaching, secured steady employment within the society, and live a standard life,” it stated.

Ekaterina Anchevskaya For BuzzFeed Information

Nurlan Kokteubai at his house in Shonzhy, Kazakhstan, Feb. 26.

The entire detainees interviewed by BuzzFeed Information have been launched too way back to have spent any time in one of many brand-new services — many stated that earlier than they escaped China for good, they have been stored below de facto home or city arrest, unable to enterprise previous the borders of their villages with out acquiring permission from a police officer. Many — particularly these with much less formal training — had no thought what sort of facility they have been held in and even why they’d been detained within the first place. They stated they usually drew conclusions based mostly on weekly interrogation classes, the place police requested about actions that made them “untrustworthy.”

An older ethnic Kazakh man named Nurlan Kokteubai acknowledged the camp he was taken to as quickly as he arrived in September 2017. Not lengthy earlier than, it had been a center college.

“My daughter went to that college,” he stated. “I had picked her up there earlier than.”

Bitter Winter

The entrance entrance of the previous Third Center Faculty in Qapqal Xibe, the place Kokteubai’s daughter went to high school.

Smile traces seem on Kokteubai’s deeply wrinkled face when he talks about his daughter, who was born in 1992. She later moved to Kazakhstan, the place many ethnic Kazakhs from China to migrate due to the Kazakh authorities’s resettlement coverage for individuals of Kazakh descent. There, she and her husband campaigned relentlessly for Kokteubai’s launch in YouTube videos and lengthy letters to human rights teams. He believes his eventual launch in March 2018 was as a result of her marketing campaign. Contained in the camp, as an alternative of lecture rooms the place college students like his daughter might need studied math or historical past, Kokteubai noticed dorm rooms overcrowded with as many as 40 or 50 males every sleeping on too few bunk beds.

Although the compound itself wasn’t new, it had many up to date options, akin to excessive partitions and barbed wire across the compound. And the camp was now dotted with CCTV cameras, which a guard advised him might movie objects so far as 200 meters away.

One other factor that was new: While you entered the gate, an enormous purple plaque greeted you. “Let’s study the spirit of the nineteenth Communist Occasion Congress,” it stated.

Like Kokteubai, a number of former detainees interviewed by BuzzFeed Information stated after arriving, they acknowledged the services during which they have been held as a result of they’d walked or pushed previous them, and even visited them of their earlier incarnations. However these repurposed services have been by no means meant to accommodate prisoners and weren’t sufficiently big to carry all of the Muslim minorities the Chinese language authorities supposed to detain.

In early 2019, employees began clearing land to increase a camp south of Ürümqi, in a city referred to as Dabancheng, that had grow to be notorious after reporters from BBC and Reuters visited the 12 months earlier than. The camp at Dabancheng was already one of many largest internment services within the area, succesful in October 2018 of housing as much as 32,500 individuals, in response to an architectural evaluation by BuzzFeed Information. For the reason that growth, it’s now able to housing some 10,000 extra individuals. By November of final 12 months one other, separate compound had been accomplished, this one able to holding an extra 10,000 individuals — for a complete capability of greater than 40,000, akin to the scale of the city of Niagara Falls.

“These services show traits according to extrajudicial detention services within the Xinjiang area that CSIS has beforehand analyzed,” stated Amy Lehr, director of the human rights program at Washington DC-based suppose tank CSIS after analyzing the three camps referenced on this article.

Satellite images comparing the size of Dabancheng to Central Park



Ürümqi, Xinjiang

Central Park,

New York Metropolis

Planet Labs; Google Maps

BuzzFeed Information; Planet Labs; Google Maps

The camp at Dabancheng, Ruser stated, “is the principle catchment camp for Ürümqi. It’s 2 km (1.2 miles) lengthy and was expanded late final 12 months an additional kilometer with a brand new facility throughout the street to the west.” By comparability, the camp is about half the size of Central Park.

Kokteubai by no means came upon exactly why he was detained. As a result of he’s ethnic Kazakh, he was ultimately capable of settle in Kazakhstan.

On the day he was launched, he anticipated to really feel pleasure, reduction, one thing. As a substitute he felt nothing in any respect.

“I wasn’t completely happy or unhappy. I couldn’t really feel something,” he stated. “Even once I was reunited with my family in Kazakhstan, they requested me why I didn’t appear completely happy to see them after so lengthy.”

“It’s one thing I can’t clarify,” he stated. “It’s like my emotions died whereas I used to be in there.” ●