“I haven’t committed a crime,” says a smiling woman. “I have made a mistake.”
“They are affected by religious extremism,” says a teacher. “Our purpose is to get rid of their extremist thoughts.”
Over the past five years, tall, fenced camps sprung up all over China’s Xinjiang district. Uighur Muslims, a minority population in the district, began to disappear. Those who spoke up disappeared as well. Those who escaped spoke of torture, beatings and forced learning. According to rights groups, thousands of Uighur Muslims have been imprisoned in the Chinese government’s detention camps.
At first, the Chinese government denied the existence of such camps.
In October, 2018 they suddenly changed tack. The Communist government explained that the spaces were adult schools, made to help individuals with extremist ideas learn skills that would help them become employable.
In January 2019, China invited diplomats into their camps. In June an invitation to journalists was issued.
The BBC’s China Correspondent John Sudworth spent some time on a guided tour of China’s infamous reeducation camps and reported on his experience.
He found men and women in uniforms, sharing dormitories, singing, painting and dancing – learning to make beds. Students he spoke to said they were too extremist, the camp was helping them. Every conversation was monitored by government officials.
Denied the right to practise their religion, forced to learn Mandarin, the adults whom Sudworth met didn’t know how long they would be detained in the camps.
“If these are show camps, what might that say about places we were not given access to?” asks Sudworth in the video.