The centres protected people’s liberties by allowing them to “request time off” and “regularly go home,” Tuniaz said. While the people inside the centers are not permitted to practice their religion during their “period of study,” they can resume activities related to their faith when they are at home. The officials at Tuesday’s briefing did not address whether the program is voluntary or how often people are allowed to go home.
After international condemnation of and extensive reporting on the centres, China began organising highly choreographed trips to Xinjiang for journalists and foreign officials. Earlier this month, United Nations envoys from 37 countries, including North Korea, Syria and several Muslim-majority states, signed a letter supporting the camps and commending China’s human rights record. The letter was an apparent response to a letter signed by 22 countries – including Germany, Japan and the UK – condemning the camps.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, called Zakir a “political microphone” used by Beijing to spread its “deception.”
“Shohrat Zakir’s remarks completely distort the reality of the systematic persecution that Uighurs are suffering in China,” Raxit said.
The US State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, Nathan Sales, said in an interview in July with the US government-funded Radio Free Asia that the detentions of Muslims in Xinjiang had “nothing to do with terrorism” and was instead part of the Communist Party’s “war on religion.”