Uighur activists said Tuesday they have documented nearly 500 camps and prisons run by China to detain members of the ethnic group, alleging that Beijing could be holding far more than the commonly cited figure of one million people.
The East Turkistan National Awakening Movement, a Washington-based group that seeks independence for the mostly Muslim region known to China as Xinjiang, gave the geographic coordinates of 182 suspected “concentration camps” where Uighurs are allegedly pressured to renounce their culture.
Researching imagery from Google Earth, the group said it also spotted 209 suspected prisons and 74 suspected labour camps for which it would share details later.
“In large part these have not been previously identified, so we could be talking about far greater numbers” of people detained, said Kyle Olbert, the director of operations for the movement.
China’s foreign ministry said the allegations were “baseless.”
Anders Corr, an analyst who formerly worked in US intelligence and who advised the group, said that around 40 percent of the sites had not been previously reported.
Rights advocates have generally estimated that China is detaining more than one million Uighurs and members of other predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnicities.
But Randall Schriver, the top Pentagon official for Asia, said in May that the figure was “likely closer to three million citizens” -- an extraordinary number in a region of some 20 million people.