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Western data on Uygurs has serious flaws

By ZHANG YI | China Daily | Updated: 2019-12-30 07:34

Estimated figures wrongly attributed to UN report, derived from dubious studies

Claims that the Chinese government is "detaining millions of Uygurs" in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region are being increasingly repeated in the reporting of Western media, but little scrutiny is ever applied, an investigative journalism organization said recently.

On Dec 21, The Grayzone published on its website, thegrayzone.com, a detailed review of media claims that China has detained millions of Uygurs in Xinjiang. That claim goes unquestioned in the West, yet a closer look at the figure and how it was obtained reveals a serious flaw in the data gathering, it said.

The review found the data cited in Western media is based on two highly dubious "studies" from a US-backed organization and a farright researcher "led by God against Beijing".

According to The Grayzone report, the "millions detained" claim was first popularized by the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, or CHRD, an organization backed by the US government. It formed this estimate based on interviews with a mere eight people.

In a 2018 report submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, CHRD estimated that "roughly one million... ethnic Uyghurs have been sent to 're-education' detention camps and roughly two million have been forced to attend 'reeducation' programs in Xinjiang".

The CHRD report says those figures are "based on interviews and limited data". From interviews with eight Uygurs from eight Xinjiang villages, the study calculated the population in the "re-education camps" based on the interviewees' villages.

It estimated that "at least 10 percent of villagers are being detained in 're-education detention camps', and 20 percent are being forced to attend day/evening 're-education camps' in the villages or townships".

According to The Grayzone, CHRD applied these estimated figures to all of Xinjiang to arrive at the claim submitted to the UN that 1 million ethnic Uygurs have been detained in "re-education detention camps".

Since the report was released, the US government and many Western major media outlets cited it as an open source reporting to denounce China as a "violator of human rights", ignoring the flaws in the data. In addition, it was misrepresented in Western media as a UN-authored report.

A spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed in a statement to The Grayzone that the allegation of Chinese "camps" was not made by the UN, thegrayzone.com reported in August, 2018.

The second study came from Adrian Zenz, a far-right researcher of China studies who reached the figure of "over 1 million" based on a single report from Istiqlal TV, a Uygur-separatist media organization in Turkey, according to The Grayzone.

The Chinese government has said on many occasions that the vocational education and training centers in Xinjiang were established in accordance with the law for combating terrorism and extremism.

"Those who have participated in the courses on the standard Chinese language, laws and vocational skills-as well as the deradicalization programs-have all graduated. They've found jobs, and their quality of life has been improved," said Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, at a news conference earlier this month.

The establishment of the centers is part of the region's measures to root out terrorism and extremism. "Measures against terrorist attacks and extremists taken in Xinjiang are no different from those in many other countries, including the US," the chairman said.

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