China has claimed its authorities were carrying out ‘normal’ tasks after shocking footage purported to show hundreds of shackled and blindfolded Muslim prisoners being transferred.
The drone video, believed to be taken in Xinjiang in western China, shows the detainees being led from trains with their heads shaven, eyes covered and hands bound.
The video, uploaded to social media and unverified, appeared as the United States is increasing its pressure on Beijing over what it says is the systematic oppression of Muslims.
The alleged prisoners are also seen in the clip sitting in rows outside what appears to be a train station watched by dozens of SWAT officers.
Many of them, thought to be ethnic minority Uighurs, are seen wearing purple vests with the words ‘Kashgar Detention Center’ written on their backs.
US officials believed the footage to be authentic.
UN experts and activists say at least one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims are held in the detention centres in Xinjiang. China describes them as ‘training centres’ helping to stamp out extremism and give people new skills.
Former detainees have revealed that Muslims were forced to eat pork and speak Mandarin in those internment camps.
China has also kept thousands of Uighur children away from their Muslim parents before indoctrinating them in camps posing as schools and orphanages, recent evidence shows.
Muslims make up about two per cent of the 1.4 billion population in China. However, as the country is so populous, its Muslim population is expected to be the 19th largest in the world in 2030.
The Muslim population in China is projected to increase from 23.3 million in 2010 to nearly 30 million in 2030. The clip, filmed by a Chinese-made DJI drone, was posted to YouTube last month by a user known as ‘Fear on War’.
Words in the video suggest the scene was captured in Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture, an autonomous prefecture for Mongols in southern Xinjiang.
Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the footage was likely to have been taken at the Korla West Train Station in Korla after analysing the footage, according to Mr Ruser’s tweets.
Korla is a city of 550,000 people in Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture.
Authorities of Xinjiang said: ‘Transporting inmates by judicial authorities (is related) to normal judicial activities.’
In a statement to CNN, the authorities said: ‘Cracking down on crimes in accordance with law is the common practice of all countries.’
They added: ‘Xinjiang’s crackdown on crimes has never been linked to ethnicities or religions.’
A Western intelligence official believed the footage to be authentic. The official was able to verify the movement of some 500 prisoners earlier this year from Kashgar to Korla, according to CNN.
A European security source also claimed that the footage was genuine and showed up to 600 Uighur Muslim prisoners being moved earlier this year.
The source told Sky News last month: ‘This is typical of the way the Chinese move this type of prisoner.’
New York-based Human Rights Watch said the footage demonstrates the ‘gross human rights violations’ against Uighurs from Beijing.
It called for an independent investigation into China’s treatment of its Muslim residents.
A spokesperson from the group told MailOnline: ‘While HRW hasn’t yet corroborated this footage, it raises the specter of many of the same kinds of gross human rights violations against Uyghurs we have documented – especially mass arbitrary detention and lack of access to family or counsel.
‘It underscores the urgent need for an independent investigation; Chinese authorities lost all credibility on this issue months ago by denying these abuses even exist.’
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week blasted China over its treatment of Uighur Muslims.
Pompeo reserved his toughest criticism for China in a keynote speech at a Vatican conference on religious freedom.
‘When the state rules absolutely, it demands its citizens worship government, not God. That’s why China has put more than one million Uighur Muslims … in internment camps and is why it throws Christian pastors in jail,’ he said.
‘When the state rules absolutely, God becomes an absolute threat to authority,’ he said.
Pompeo had previously called Beijing’s treatment of the country’s ethnic Uighur minority among ‘the worst stains on the world’.
Beijing slammed Pompeo’s remarks as ‘lies’.
‘The lies of American politicians can’t trick people around the world and will only further expose the purpose of their hidden political motives,’ said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
‘We express our strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to these US officials who disregard the facts… and seriously interfere in China’s internal affairs,’ she told reporters at a press briefing in Beijing.
Drone footage has emerged showing police leading hundreds of blindfolded and shackled men from a train in what is believed to be a transfer of inmates in Xinjiang.
The video, posted anonymously on YouTube last week, shows what appear to be Uighur or other minorities wearing blue and yellow uniforms, with cleanly shaven heads, their eyes covered, sitting in rows on the ground and later being led away by police. Prisoners in China are often transferred with handcuffs and masks covering their faces.
Nathan Ruser, a researcher with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s international cyber policy centre, used clues in the footage, including landmarks and the position of the sun, to verify the video, which he believes was shot at a train station west of Korla in south-east Xinjiang in August last year.
Much of the focus of international criticism of China’s far-reaching anti-terrorism campaign in Xinjiang has centred on the extrajudicial detentions of more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in internment and political re-education camps.
The number of formal arrests and prison sentences has also increased. According to analysis by the New York Times, local courts sentenced 230,000 people to prison or other punishments in 2017 and 2018, as the campaign got under way. Xinjiang accounts for less than 2% of the country’s population but about 21% of all arrests in 2017.
Ruser said the detainees were most likely being transferred to prisons in Korla from Kashgar, where the crackdown has been particularly severe. The area is believed to be home to several re-education camps but fewer detention centres.
“It counters the propaganda offensive China is trying to show,” he said, underlining the treatment of those within the penal system.
China has been taking diplomats and select groups of journalists on carefully orchestrated tours of Xinjiang and has defended its anti-extremism methods, describing them as a model for other countries to follow.
On Sunday, Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, described the video as “deeply disturbing”.
The video was posted on YouTube by an account named War on Fear, whose stated goal is to fight fear inspired by hi-tech surveillance.
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