As a warning to citizens against growing tensions in China’s northwestern region, the government has reportedly built a large complex of prison yards outside Xinjiang’s regional capital Urumqi, reports confirm.
In total, there are seven prisons–all linked together, Radio Free Asia said.
All the buildings were constructed in the Xinshi New City District just north of the capital, an unnamed prison official recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“All of them were put together, and there are quite a few,” RFA’s source said.
“All the political prisoners are here, with the men housed in the jails for men, and women in the jails for the women.”
“One prison alone holds several thousand inmates,” a former prisoner now living in Turkey told RFA, adding, “Jail number two is the women’s jail, and all the rest are for men.”
“The complex is located to the north of Urumqi in an area close to a special economic zone. It is like a city of jails,” he said.
Reports confirm that a large of number of dissidents are currently held in Xinjiang prisons but the factual number can never be known because it’s a guarded state secret. There’s no way the media can get reliable figures.
Over the years, this war-torn region has faced ethnic tensions between Han Chinese and a larger part of the population who are mostly Muslim Uyghurs.
Though RFA has broken the news that such prison yards do actually exist, the government is yet to disclose the facilities’ precise capacity. The prisons are expected to become home to ordinary criminals and political dissidents.
State media have reported recent efforts at expansion of Xinjiang’s prison network, with government-controlled website people.cn reporting in February that 100 officials would be hired to direct political education programs in the jails, and Xinjiang Jail Magazine saying in July that more than 700 recruits would be hired as guards.
According to Teng Biao, a Chinese human rights activist who resides in the U.S., “China’s construction of such a large complex of prisons near Urumqi reflects Beijing’s concerns over unrest in the politically sensitive region”.
“China’s internal situation is unstable,” Teng told RFA.
“In the Uyghur region and in Tibet, unarmed people are violently suppressed, and these kinds of tactics will only increase tensions in Xinjiang.”
Xinjiang’s Uyghur extremists have received blames for series of terror attacks in the region.
However, activists outside China are making counter claims against an alleged government’s propaganda, saying “Beijing has exaggerated the threat and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012”.