Chinese Versus International Media: The ‘Re-Education’ Detention Camps in Xinjiang Province

International media outlets have been holding a microscope to Chinese detention facilities in the Xinjiang province since November when Mihrigul Tursun, a Uighur Muslim woman, pleaded before a congressional committee for the U.S. to intervene.

A clip of Tursun’s heart-wrenching account of the torturous conditions she and others were subjected to in the ‘re-education’ camps spread across social media and was covered by Time Magazine. Coverage of these camps has since exploded, with a first-hand account making its way onto Saturday’s Snapchat story section via British news outlet, The Telegraph.

This, among other accounts, has put Chinese President Xi Jinping in an uncomfortable place on the international stage. The U.N. Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet made her second appeal in six months earlier this month asking the U.N. to begin independent investigations into Chinese human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

It is estimated that one million Uighurs and other Muslims are being held captive in internment camps enduring forced labor in the Chinese province.

Leaked images of a Chinese broadcast about one of these concentration camps exposed the degree to which China is miseducating its public via state-owned media. The internment camps have been portrayed as technical and occupational schools, where Uighur people can be re-educated to become productive members of the state-socialist Chinese society.

The reality of these facilities—more accurately conveyed through an investigative piece by The New York Times—aligns with the disturbing reality painted by Tursun at the November congressional hearing. Satellite footage proves that the facilities are heavily fenced and guarded to keep people contained.

This past month, after a rumor that a popular Uighur musician was dead spread within the Uigur population, the Chinese government responded by releasing footage proving that he was alive. This reaction by the government prompted Uigur individuals in exile abroad to ask for proof that their relatives were also alive.

Activist Murat Harri Uygur is using this media momentum to start #metoouighur, a social media campaign aimed at exposing the one million missing people presumed to now be living in a system of modern slavery.

In response to the media storm, international powers have crept closer to catching a glance at what is thought to be massive human rights violations by the economic powerhouse. Chinese officials have made several claims that any attempts to investigate the internment camps would constitute a violation of their sovereignty.

Earlier this year, China allowed a group of foreign diplomats to tour one of the facilities in question. This tour was little more than a Chinese public relations ploy to fend off international powers, providing superficial transparency and using media coverage of the tour to express anger that the international community views these facilities as internment camps.

China maintains its position that it is not violating human rights and that the facilities are merely educational. However, the tears of the Uighur woman before Congress last year and the cries for justice via the #metoouighur social media campaign indicate otherwise.

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