Inmates told to chant 'Thank the Party' before meals at Chinese internment camps for Muslims

China is saving ethnic minority Muslims from the lure of religious extremism by teaching them to speak Mandarin and accept modern science, officials have said, as Beijing seeks to defend its internment of Muslims.

Shohrat Zakir, the governor of the far west Xinjiang region, described the mass internment of Uighur and Kazakh Muslims as “free vocational training” which also provided people with skills to work in factories.

Xinjiang, the tense north-western region where most Uighurs live, has been enveloped in recent years in police surveillance that authorities insist is needed to root out separatism and Islamic extremism.

The report carried in official news outlets was a rare public move by a senior Chinese official to detail the ruling Communist Party’s vision of what the country’s extrajudicial detention of an estimated one million ethnic minority Muslims is setting out to achieve.

Key to the party’s vision, the Xinhua report showed, was the need for the region’s Central Asian ethnic groups to undergo an intensive assimilation in Chinese language, culture and history, and push them to adopt what the party considers a modern, civilised way of life.

Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region (AP)

The region’s Turkic-speaking Uighurs have long resented restrictions placed on their religious practices and complained of meeting widespread discrimination in jobs and access to passports.

Some details in Mr Zakir’s depiction of the centres were at odds with accounts provided to The Associated Press by former detainees. They have described being held in camps where they were forced to recite party slogans and renounce their faith.

Omir Bekali, a Xinjiang-born Kazakh citizen, said he was kept in a cell with 40 people inside a heavily-guarded facility.

Before meals, they were told to chant: “Thank the Party! Thank the Motherland!”

During daily mandatory classes, they were told that their people were backward before being “liberated” by the party in the 1950s.

Mr Zakir painted a far different picture, saying that “trainees” were immersed in athletic and cultural activities.

While they were previously mired in poverty, Mr Zakir said, the training put them on the path toward a “modern life” and made them “confident about the future”.

The report comes as China has increased propaganda efforts to defend its measures in Xinjiang following growing criticism from Western countries and international human rights groups.

The new UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said last month that monitors should be allowed into the region, and calls have been made in US congress for sanctions on some Chinese officials.

- Press Association

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