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Leaked docs give inside view of China’s mass detention camps

Last month, hundreds of documents obtained by The New York Times gave an inside view of China’s growing indoctrination camps. In the country’s northwestern region, Uighurs and other Muslim minorities have been detained for ideological transformation, isolated from the outside world. Austin Ramzy, a reporter with the New York Times, spoke with Hari Sreenivasan about the findings.

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  • Alison Stewart:

    Last month, a trove of leaked documents revealed an exceptional inside view of China's mass detention of ethnic minorities in northwest China and its growing complex of internment camps. Hundreds of pages of documents obtained by The New York Times revealed internal speeches from President Xi Jinping, as well as directives from senior officials on how to manage indoctrination camps.

    Additional leaked documents were later given to other journalists detailing how in the past three years, Uighur and other Muslim minorities have been detained for ideological transformation and were kept isolated from the outside world.

    NewsHour Weekend's Hari Sreenivasan recently spoke about those findings with Austin Ramzy, one of the reporters from The New York Times who first broke the story.

  • Austin Ramzy:

    We received 400 pages of internal documents describing the history of how these camps came about. It showed that Xi Jinping, Chinese president, had been looking for some sort of answer to problems of separatism and religious extremism in Xinjiang.

    And so five years ago, he gave some very tough speeches. Shortly after that, we began to see some small camps. And then in 2017, the growth of these indoctrination really takes off. It really clashes with the public face that the government has tried to put on these facilities, that they're simply boarding schools for people who may have committed some sort of minor infraction, a way to give them some job training and help them move on to better lives. And in these internal documents we can see a lot of the harm that's done to families, children who had their parents taken away.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You even point out that there are basically scripts to deal with the questions that families will have when one of their family members is mysteriously vanished.

  • Austin Ramzy:

    Yes, that was perhaps the most revealing document in all of the things that we received. It was a sort of a sample Q&A for officials to handle students who were studying in other parts of China and then returned home to learn that their parents or other family members were in the camp.

    And the document is full of this sort of pseudo medical language describing the family member as someone whose thinking has been infected and so they needed to be put in treatment and cured.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What are they doing in these camps? How are they actually structuring these places, the ones that they said are just for re-education or vocational experience? What are these new documents revealing that tell us that that's not really the case?

  • Austin Ramzy:

    These documents include one incredibly interesting nine-page document that's a set of orders that were sent out in 2017 of how a camp should be run, really describes this sort of prison-like situation.

    And in fact, some of the language is exactly the same as used in prisons in Xinjiang in terms of preventing escapes and preventing incidents and things like that. So very strict controls on people on the inside, orders to have people monitor each other or essentially spy on each other.

    And so these documents, this document in particular is probably the most detailed look we have at how the camps are run.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So give me an idea. I know it's hard to pin down an exact number, but how many people are in these camps in the west of China now?

  • Austin Ramzy:

    Well, scholars have looked at this, taking satellite data, construction, tender data as well to try and create estimates. And they believe that there are a million or more.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    A million or more people in the camps now. And, you know, going back to kind of that first set of documents, what was also interesting is that you found that some of the people who had to carry out the policies of taking people and putting them into camps, it wasn't that easy for them. There was kind of some internal dissent?

  • Austin Ramzy:

    That's right. I mean, aside from the leak of the documents themselves, there were signs within the documents of officials who resisted. In one case, there's a detailed description and he doesn't really seem to be doing it for high-minded ideals. He just thinks that it's not going to work. So it seems like internally there's also a sense that this program is not working.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Austin Ramzy of The New York Times joining us via Skype from Hong Kong. Thanks so much.

  • Austin Ramzy:

    My pleasure.

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