On July 12, 2015, a satellite flew over vast deserts and cities in the far west of China.
One of the images that managed to capture that day was a patch of gray sand, empty, uninhabited.
The least expected place to start an investigation into one of the most delicate issues in human rights in recent years.
Who are the Uighurs, the ethnic group that China are being detained in “re-education camps” in less than three years, the 22 April 2018, a photo satellite at the same place of desert showed something completely different.
A huge installation of security had appeared on the sand, framed by the outer wall of 2 km long punctuated by 16 watchtowers.
Last year met the first reports that China was operating a system of detention camps for Muslims residing in the province of Xinjiang.
Satellite photo was discovered by researchers who were looking for evidence of the fields in the file of the global mapping system Google Earth.
Photo located the place a few kilometers from the town of Dabancheng, an hour by road from the capital of the province, Urumqi.
Image of Chinese police agent captionUn puts one hand on the lens of the camera trying to achieve an image of fields. Detention in an attempt to avoid the scrutiny of the police about the reporters who come visit, arrived at the airport in Urumqi first thing in the morning.
But at the very moment when we left the terminal, a caravan of five vehicles haunts us, with several police officers and Chinese officials on board.
“I will pay the bullets that killed my spouse and my mother”: the testimony of a Uighur whose family is being held in a field of re-education in China is clear that our plan to visit at least one dozen places that might be in the course of the proxy detention camps MOS days won’t be easy.
We went to one of the roads of the city we know that take the official vehicles earlier will try to stop us.
Suddenly, we see something unexpected.
INTERACTIVAComplejo of Dabancheng Dabancheng, April 2018 Dabancheng, guide July 2015 that wide and uninhabited rectangle of gray sand which showed the satellite image of 2015 already is not empty.
Instead, a huge project is taking shape.
The Uighurs who are and why they are in the crosshairs of Turkey after the attack in a nightclub in Istanbul is like a mini city that has emerged from the Earth, full of cranes, with rows and rows of grey buildings, all four floors.
Our cameras attempt to capture the extent of construction, but until we can go further the official Caravan is put in front of us.
Image captionDesde the vehicle window you can see the progress of the works. Our truck stops. We are asked to turn off the cameras and retire from the place.
We have discovered something important: an incessant activity which had not been previously reported to the outside world.
In the most remote areas of the Earth, images that are uploaded to Google Earthpueden take years to upgrade.
But other sources of satellite photos – as a Sentinel of the Agency Space – database provided more frequent, although at one much lower resolution images.
And I went there to find what you were looking for.
An image of October 2018 shows how that space on Chinese soil has grown much more than we expected.
Guide INTERACTIVALas satellite images show the rapid development that has taken this place Dabancheng, October 2018. Sentinel Images.
Dabancheng, April 2018. Google Earth.
“Re-education school” what they suspected was a detention camp, now looks like a huge installation.
And it is only one of the structures style prison which have been built in the province of Siankiang in recent years.
Before attempting to visit to the place, we stop in the middle of Dabancheng.
It is impossible to talk to someone without any problems. Our vigilant officers we are around, threatening, and aggressively interviewed anyone who even greet us.
Our choice is to call several numbers in the area randomly.
Our question: what is this enormous complex that 16 police officers and tried that we not grabáramos with our cameras.
“It’s a re-education school,” said one hotelier.
“Image captionUn video edited by the Chinese Government shows that takes place within the school.” Yes, a school of re-education”, confirmed another merchant.
“There are thousands of people. You have some problems with his way of thinking,”he said.
Now, this huge installation, of course, does not fit into the objective definition of a school.
In Xinjiang, the ‘go to school’ has come to acquire another meaning.
China has denied repeatedly that it is locking up Muslims without trial.
But long since used a euphemism for fields: Re-education camps.
Almost for sure, and as a response to international criticism, the Chinese authorities have begun to strengthen the use of that concept, accompanied by a propaganda effort.
Interviews State television has been presenting stories about these places, full of shiny and clean rooms, and students who apparently submit voluntarily to courses that dictate them.
And do not make any mention of the reasons that students had to choose these “courses” or how much duran.
Image captionLa police has a permanent presence in the region of Sinkiang.Pero there are some tracks.
Interviews sound more like confessions.
“I understand what have been my own mistakes,” a man tells the camera, and promises that a good citizen will be “once you arrive home”.
The main purpose of these facilities, have told us, is to combat extremism, through a combination of theory, job training and classes in mandarin.
This last line shows that – whatever you call them, schools or camps – the goal is the same.
The facilities are exclusive to Muslim minorities living in the province, the majority of which does not have the mandarin as their mother tongue.
The video suggests that the school has a strict dress code: none of the women students wears a veil.
There are about 10 million Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang. They speak a language of the Turkic family and resemble the peoples of Central Asia.
It is often said that the city of Kashgar is geographically closer to Baghdad than Beijing, and certainly also feel culturally closer.
ImagenGETTY IMAGESImage copyright police face constant captionHay during the tour of the journalist. And a history of rebellion and resistance to the Chinese Government, the relationship of the Uighurs with the politicians who send them has been so distant as tense.
Before that came the Communist Government, Sinkiang lived brief periods of independence.
And since then he has tried to constantly take the pulse for the Chinese Government, with protests and sporadic eruptions of violence.
The mineral wealth–particularly oil and gas – a region that has five times the size of Germany has brought a strong Chinese investment in infrastructure, a robust economic growth and a significant influx of Chinese have.
And now, the resentment of Uighurs by the lack of distribution of that wealth has cooked over low heat.
In response to criticisms, the Chinese authorities point to improvements in the quality of life of persons residing in Sinkiang.
Image captionEsta is a traditional buildings that can be seen in Sinkiang.Pero the truth is that, in the last ten years, hundreds of people have died because of the marches, the inter-communal violence, premeditated attacks and the consequent Police response.
In 2013, a car careened into a group of pedestrians that circulated through the square of Tiananmen Square, in Beijing, and caused the death of two people – as well as the three occupants of the vehicle, who were original Uighur-, which marked a significant shift in china’s policy.
Although the number of fatal casualties was low, the attack hit the founding ideals of the Chinese State.
The following year, 31 people died stabbed in an attack by Uighurs in the train station of Kunming city, about 2,000 kilometres from Sinkiang.
New measures from there, and during the last four years, Xinjiang became the focus of the more restrictive and comprehensive security measures that a State has ever deployed against his own people.
Copyright of the imagenGETTY IMAGESImage captionLas Chinese authorities saw the attacks not as isolated acts but as a message of the collectivity of the Uighurs. These measures include the use of technology to large-scale, with facial recognition cameras, devices able to read content from mobile phones and biometric data collection on a large scale.
And the establishment of new and more severe measures for crop-Muslim identity and tradition: banned, among other things, wear veils and carrying long beard, give religious instruction to children and even use names that they sound like Muslims.
Policies tend to mark a fundamental change in official thinking: separatism cannot be seen as a problem of a few individuals, but as something inherent to the Uighur culture and Islamic in general.
This thought is in line with the idea of establishing tighter control of society being developed by President Xi Jinping, in which loyalties to family and faith are below the only loyalty qEU matters: the Communist Party.
The unique identity of the Uighurs make them a target simply on suspicion.
And that view has been reinforced by reports, often credible, hundreds of inhabitants of this area had traveled to Syria to fight with radical groups.
Image captionUna Chinese flag Crown the mosque in the town of Kashgar, in the province of Sinkiang.Ahora, the Uighurs are treated according to this stereotype whenever they pass through thousands of checkpoints that exist in the region, while that other Chinese they usually let them pass without problems.
Uighurs also face many restrictions on transport, in and out of Xinjiang, with an edict that forces residents to hand over their passports in “custody” to the police.
Officials Uighurs who work for the Government are forbidden to practice Islam, mosques to attend or make the fasting during Ramadan.
In this scenario, perhaps no surprise that China has taken another old and obtuse solution to what is perceived as a disloyalty of many of its citizens Uighurs.
And, apart from the Chinese Government to deny it, the more proof of the existence of these detention camps comes from the information issued by the authorities.
Dozens of pages of official documents which invite contractors to apply for construction projects were discovered on the internet by the German scholar Adrian Zenz.
Copyright of the imagenGETTY.Image captionLos 2013 attacks in Beijing accounted for a change in China’s policy against the Uighurs. In these documents you can read details of the construction or remodeling of various facilities in the province of Xinjiang.
In some cases, the Government requests the installation of certain security features comprehensive, as watchtowers, barbed wire, surveillance systems and rooms for guards.
At a crossroads of information with other sources, Zenz suggests that hundreds of thousands–and possibly close to a million – of Uighurs and other members of Muslim minorities could be interned camps to undergo “re-education” processes.
Documents, of course, never concern the facilities as detention camps, but yes as centers of education or, in a more accurate translation, “rehabilitation centres”.
One of them almost certainly relates to the huge site we visited: a tender in July 2017 for the installation of a heating system in a “transformation through education school” somewhere in the Dabancheng district.
Copyright of the imagenGETTY IMAGESImage caption “They want to erase the evidence of the existence of the Uighurs,” said one of the men who was in detention camps. Disappearance between those euphemisms, you can find unequivocal substance to think that there is a network of mass confinement in rapid expansion.
In 2002, Reyila Abulaiti traveled from Sinkiang to United Kingdom to study.
There he met and then married a Briton, became a British citizen and formed a family.
The year past, his mother – Xiamuxinuer ask, 66 years – visited her as did usually mid-year to spend time with her and her grandson and, of course, went on to do some sightseeing in London.
He is an engineer with a long record of service in a Chinese State-owned company. On June 2, flew from returned to Xinjiang. But that day is not called to confirm whether it had become well House.
Reyila called it, and the communication was brief and frightening: “he told Me that the police were seizing the House,” said Reyila.
Rights of author of the ask for family imagenXIAMUXINUER. Image captionXiamuxinuer order told his daughter that he would not come again to call. It seemed that the objective of the investigation was Reyila. His mother said that she had to send the following documents: proof of address in the United Kingdom, the British passport, their phone numbers and information on the course that was taking at the University.
When asked to send documents by a Chinese chat service, Xiamuxinuer told him something that bristled her skin.
“I do not ever call. Never again I again call”.
It was the last time that he knew of it.
Reyila believes that since that day, his mother is in one of the detention camps.
“My mother has been detained without any reason. As far as I know, the Chinese Government wants to erase the world Uighur identity”, he said.
The BBC interviewed eight Uighurs who live outside of China.
Image captionReyila Abulaiti said that not he had heard from his family in recent years. Their testimonies are quite consistent and provide evidence of conditions and routines within the fields and the reasons why the Uighurs are detained.
Apparently, massive religious activities, small dissent and any relationship with Uighurs living abroad are sufficient to take them to these fields.
Exercise in the courtyard every morning, when Ablet Tursun Tohti, 29 years old, he woke up an hour before the Sunrise, and fellow in the field had a minute to get to the courtyard.
Then they were exercising. “There was a punishment for those who are not enough room. There were two people there, one struck with a belt and the other only beat kicks”, featured tablet.
The courtyard of exercises where Tablet ran can clearly be seen in the photo satellite of the complex located in the oasis town of Hotan, in the South of Xinjiang.
“There to sing a song called ‘Without the Communist Party there can be a new China'”, recalled tablet.
“Image captionAblet Tursun Tohti was inside one of the detention camps.” And they teach us laws. If not you can recite the laws correctly, then you hit”, added.
He was there for a month at the end of 2015 and, somehow, is one of the lucky ones.
In the first years of detention camps, the duration of the retraining “courses” appeared to be minor. There is no report that in the past two years someone has left a Center.
And since then there has been a massive confiscation of passports, which tablet was one of the last few Uighurs who was able to flee China.
He sought refuge in Turkey, where there is a large diaspora Uighur given linguistic and cultural proximity.
Tablet tells me that his 74-year-old father and eight siblings are in the fields. “They have not stopped anyone outside”.
Abdusalam Muhemet, 41-year-old, also lives in Turkey.
Copyright of the imagenGOOGLE EARTHImage captionEsta is a satellite image of 2018 of the place where it is assumed that tablet was retained. He was arrested by the police in Xinjiang in 2014 by reciting a verse of Islam at a funeral. Chinese police decided not to file charges against her, but that did not mean that he was released.
“They told me that I needed to be educated,” he explained.
Facilities where took him did not seem you really those of a school. In the satellite photo, surveillance towers and fencing double perimeter of the center of Legal education training are distinguished from have ‘ airike.
Barbed wire lines can be identified by the shadows projected on the sand under the intense sun of the desert.
Muhemet described the same routine of exercise, bullying and brainwashing.
Ali – that is not his real name – it is 25 years old and is very frightened to speak openly.
In 2015, has ended up in a field after police found the photo of a woman wearing a niqab – a facial veil – on your cell phone.
“A woman was taken to these camps for pilgrimage to Mecca. And a Lord for not paying the water bill on time,”said.
During a session of forced exercise, an official car entered the field and the door remained open for a few seconds.
“Suddenly, a little boy ran in the direction of his mother, who was exercising with us. She ran to him, hugged him and started crying,”he said.
“The police took the woman by the hair and pulled the child from the field,” he added.
Instead of the airy surroundings showing State television, a very different picture emerges in the story.
“Copyright of the imagenGETTY IMAGESImage captionAbdusalam Muhemet lives exiled in Turkey.” Our bedroom doors close them locked at night. There is no bathroom inside. Our needs do them in a container they give us”, narrated tablet.
There is no way to independently verify these claims. You ask the Chinese Government about the allegations of abuse, but we received no response.
For the Uighurs that are outside of Xinjiang, the news coming from there are increasingly scarce.
Fear fear feeds the silence.
The reports of people who are removed from the family chats or who asked never to return them to call have become very frequent.
Two of the central elements of the Uighur – faith and family culture – are being systematically attacked.
As a result of the detention of entire families, there are reports that many children are being sent to State orphanages.
Rights of author of the EARTH imagenGOOGLE. Image captionEsta is the photo satellite’s Hotan where Abdusalam said was penned. Bilkiz Hibibullah arrived in Turkey in 2016 with five of her children. His daughter minor, Sekine Hasan, who would now have three and a half years, stayed in Xinjiang with his spouse.
The child had no passport and the plan was that, when I had one, the family will meet in Istanbul.
The girl never received that Passport. Bilkiz believes that his spouse was arrested March 20, 2017.
Since that date she lost contact with her family and does not know where is her youngest daughter.
“At midnight, when sent to bed to my other children, I start to cry. There is nothing worse than not knowing where is your daughter. If is alive or dead,”said.
“I don’t know if she can hear me, but now the only thing I would say is that I’m sorry,” he added.
Using only public documents, inforinformation open satellite, it is possible to learn more about the dark secret of Sinkiang.
Image captionAli – is not his real name – revealed what was happening in the camps. Analysis of images GMV is a multinational aerospace company with experience in monitoring infrastructure from outer space on behalf of the European Space Agency, among others.
Their analysis covered a list of 101 facilities across the province and was made from various reports from the media and academic research on the system of re-education camps.
One by one, they measured the emergence of new places and the expansion of those already existed.
GMV identified and compared common features, such as watch towers and security fences, the kinds of things that are needed to monitor and control the movement of people.
And categorized the probability that each site was actually a security installation: 44 of them were in the categories “high” or “very high”.
Then they looked for the first detection satellite of each of those 44 facilities, and change in images over time.
Image captionBilkiz Hibibullah has had no contact with his daughter at least in two years. GMV can not establish what those places are being used. But it is clear that in the course of the past few years China has built many facilities security, at a remarkable speed.
There is one conclusion: the most recent trend is the build larger facilities.
The number of new construction this year has fallen, if compared to 2017. But the total surface of built units has grown: fewer, but bigger.
GMV calculated that only if we consider this group of 44 structures, the total area of the security facilities in Xinjiang have increased in 440 hectares since 2003.
Measures refer to all the properties including the external walls, not just buildings. The truth is that 440 hectares represents much additional space.
To give us context, the prison complex in the U.S. city of Los Angeles–which has Twin Towers correctional unit and the central prison for men – is inhabited by about 7,000 prisoners and occupies an area of 14 hectares.
Image captionLa daughter of Bilkiz, Sekine, whom his mother does not see two years ago. We took one of the findings of GMV – the increase in the size of the buildings in Dabancheng – and show it to an experienced Australian prisons, Guymer Bailey architects design team.
Prisons using measures delivered by satellite images, they calculated that these facilities could host as a minimum to about 11,000 detainees.
Even with that estimated minimum, the Center would be among the world’s largest prisons.
For example: Riker completo Island, in New York, is considered the largest of the planet (in magnitude) jail and has space for 10,000 prisoners.
Silivri prison, on the outskirts of Istanbul and one of the largest in Europe, can accommodate 11,000 prisoners.
Guymer Bailey gives us details about the possible functions that each one of the buildings in Chinese complexes.
The minimum estimated at Dabancheng is based on that the detainees are each in a single room.
Copyright of the imagenGOOGLE EARTHImage captionLa construction in have ‘ airike in 2015 and then 2018.Si instead use dormitories, dramatically increases the total capacity of Dabancheng: could reach 130,000 prisoners.
Also we show these pictures Raphael Sperry, architect and President of architects/designers/planners with Social responsibility.
“This is a truly massive and grim detention center. Seems a place designed to have the greatest number of people on the lowest possible surface with the cost of construction cheaper,”said Sperry.
And he added: “I believe that 11,000 people is to underestimate the capacity of this place. With the available information we cannot know how is designed inside or what percentage of the buildings intended for the retention of people. And even so, the estimate of 130,000 people, sadly, seems to me plausible.”
The lack of access to the workplace makes it impossible to verify independently that analysis.
We asked the authorities in Xinjiang about what is done in the complex of Dabancheng, but we got no response.
Now, not all detention camps are the same.
Some of these security facilities have not been built from scratch, but that they are remodelling of structures that had previously been used for other purposes, such as schools or factories.
This type of complexes are often smaller and are located in the Centre of the cities or towns.
In Yining County, in North China, we try to visit several of these camps.
We’ve had access to official documents from the local Government on a project to create five “vocational training centres” in order to “safeguard stability”.
In the center of the city we stop in front of a group of buildings that used to be a high school.
Now there is a fence high and solid around the place and a strong presence of security at the gateway.
In the place where it was the playground, there is now a watch tower. The same is true where was the football pitch.
On the field of play are now raised six buildings with roof sheets.
Outside, the families who come to visit some internal are lining up to enter.
“Copyright of the imagenGETTY IMAGESImage Captioncarcel of Twin Towers in Los Angeles, California.” To speak”again, where we are going in this town, two or three trucks follow us.
When we tried to shoot one of these camps, they prevent for it.
The officials, with hands covering cameras, tell us that a major military exercise is underway in the area and that we should abandon the place.
Outside of the old school, we have a family, a mother and her two sons, waiting in front of the fence.
One of the officials trying to avoid to talk with us, but another officer arrives and orders otherwise.
“Let them speak”, says.
I ask them who come to visit. One of the youths then responds: “to my father”.
Copyright of the BAILEY ARCHITECTSImage imagenGUYMER captionInstalaciones in Dabancheng: 1. Administration. 2.24 male accommodation units. 3.32 female accommodation units. The hands of the officials again cover our camera lens.
Blocked in Kashgar city, which was once the heart of Uighur culture, in the narrow streets only inhabits the silence. Many of the doors are closed with padlocks.
In front of one of the houses, we can see a note that teaches people how must answer questions about the family members that are no longer.
“To say that they are being cared for pair the good of society and their families”, can be read on the poster.
Guide INTERACTIVAEscuela half Yining not. 3 school Yining 2018 2017 the mosque of the city looks like a museum. We want to find out the time of the next moment of prayer, but no one can tell us about it.
“I am here to receive tourists. I know nothing of the times for prayer”.
In the square we find two men without beard talking. We ask them where is the rest of the people.
One of them makes a gesture with your mouth closed, as indicating that it is very risky for him to speak to journalists.
But the other Whispers: “Nobody comes through here already”.
A policeman, a few steps away, is cleaning up the stairs of the mosque. Chinese tourists are taking photographs.
Image captionLa mosque in the province of Sinkiang.Entonces left Kashgar and we headed to the Southwest, an area dotted with farms and small towns Uighurs. And with various places suspected of being internment camps.
As it has been usual in this trip, we are following, but something unexpected happens.
We see that the highway by which we are circulating is closed a few meters ahead.
There are several police officers on the road and we explain that the asphalt of the road has melted by the heat of the Sun.
“It is not safe to continue,” we say.
We noticed that the other vehicles are diverted to a parking lot at a mall and the radio we hear instructions to hold them there for “a moment”.
Image captionUn police cleans stairs of the mosque. To us tell us that the wait can be extended about four or five hours, and suggest that we return.
We are looking for alternate routes, but other locking seems to materialize, although the explanation this time changes.
We are told that the road is closed by “military training”.
Four times, in four different routes, we had to return it to us until we finally admit defeat.
Only a few kilometers away was another field that is thought is home to some 10,000 people.
Positions of power there are Uighurs in positions of power in Xinjiang.
Many of the officials and members of the police who followed us and we intercepted were Uighurs.
Copyright of the imagenGETTY IMAGESImage captionUna more and more journalists make change course. If they feel a conflict internal with what they do, of course, that can not say it.
But while the system of control and discrimination has been described as a sort of Apartheid, clearly it is not comparable.
Many Uighurs involved in the system. Actually, perhaps the best parallel that can be set is with the totalitarian past of China.
As in the Cultural Revolution, a society is told that it must be disassembled to be saved.
Shohrat Zakir, who is a Uighur, and in theory the second most powerful politician in the region, suggests that the battle is almost won.
“In the past 21 months, there has been a terrorist act and the number of criminal cases, including those that threaten security public, it dropped significantly”, he told state media.
Image caption “many Uighurs involved in the system. In fact, perhaps better parallelism that can be set is with the totalitarian past of China”.” Now Xinjiang not only is beautiful but secure and stable,”he added.
But once the detainees are released, what happen?
The exdetenidos of camp that we were all eaten by resentment.
And the world has not yet heard anyone who has been detained in facilities like Dabancheng, sinister and secret installation of such immense proportions.
Our reports are added to the evidence that massive reeducation program is detention disguised under another name: closure of many thousands of Muslims without trial or charge.
In fact, without even access to a legal process.
China is already proclaiming it as a success.
But the story has many worrying precedents about where could complete a project of this type.