Hong Kong (CNN)China has fiercely defended an escalating crackdown in the far western province of Xinjiang as necessary for security, claiming inmates of "re-education camps" are happier following their imprisonment.
China admits to locking up Uyghurs, but defends Xinjiang crackdown
International outrage has been growing over reports the Chinese government has forced as many as one million people into "re-education camps," where former detainees say they were forced to endure intensive "brain washing" sessions including close study of Communist Party propaganda.
In the most vocal defense yet of the mass internment of the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority group, Shohrat Zakir, a high-ranking Xinjiang government official, told state media the Chinese government was fighting "terrorism and extremism" in its own way, and in accordance with United Nations resolutions.
"Today's Xinjiang is not only beautiful but also safe and stable. No matter where they are or at what time of the day, people are no longer afraid of going out, shopping, dining and traveling," he told state-run news agency Xinhua, Tuesday.
"There is still a long way to go for southern Xinjiang to eradicate the environment and soil of terrorism and religious extremism."
The camps are part of Chinese government efforts to combat what it says is a rising tide of extremism in the far-western province of Xinjiang. The majority of the province's population were until recently Uyghurs rather than Han Chinese.
Shohrat Zakir's interview came as Nikki Haley, Washington's ambassador to the UN, denounced the situation in the region as "straight out of George Orwell."
Speaking to a meeting of defense ministers in Washington Monday, Haley said Beijing was engaged in "the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities."
"Their brutal tactics are self-fulfilling. They're busy creating the very radicalism they claim to be tamping down," she said.
Xinjiang quietly legalized "vocational skill education training centers" on October 10, which the law said would be used to "carry out anti-extremist ideological education."
That move came less than two months after a Chinese government spokesman completely denied the existence of re-education camps during a UN hearing on human rights.
Speaking to Xinhua Tuesday, Shohrat Zakir didn't deny the existence of the camps, instead saying former detainees had been transformed for the better by their time inside.