Nearly one in 25 people in a county in the Uyghur heartland of China has been sentenced to prison on terrorism-related charges, in what is the highest known imprisonment rate in the world, a leaked data show.
A list obtained and partially verified by our organisation cites the names of more than 10,000 Uyghurs sent to prison in just Konasheher county alone, one of dozens in southern Xinjiang.
In recent years, China has waged a brutal crackdown on the Uyghurs, a largely Muslim minority, which it has described as a war on terror.
The list is by far the biggest to emerge to date with the names of imprisoned Uyghurs, reflecting the sheer size of a Chinese government campaign that swept an estimated million or more people into internment camps and prisons.
It also confirms what families and rights groups have said for years: China is relying on a system of long-term incarceration to keep the Uyghurs in check, wielding the law as a weapon of repression.
Under searing international criticism, Chinese officials announced the closure in 2019 of short-term, extrajudicial internment camps where Uyghurs were thrown in without charges. However, although attention focused on the camps, thousands of Uyghurs still languish for years or even decades in prison on what experts say are trumped-up charges of terrorism.
Those swept up came from all walks of life, and included men, women, young people and the elderly. They had only one thing in common: They were all Uyghurs.
Experts say it clearly shows people were targeted simply for being Uyghur – a conclusion vehemently denied by Chinese authorities.
Darren Byler, an expert on Xinjiang’s mass incarceration system, said most arrests were arbitrary and outside the law, with people detained for having relatives abroad or downloading certain cell phone applications.
“It is really remarkable,” Byler said. “In no other location have we seen entire populations of people be described as terrorists or seen as terrorists.”