A 20-minute video shot by a bespectacled young man who calls himself Guanguan appears to confirm reports of China’s vast network of concentration camps used to persecute Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
Guanguan says in the video that he traveled previously to China’s far western region in 2019 but went back in 2020 after reading an article from the U.S. news outlet BuzzFeed that indicated the locations of some of the camps there.
“But due to the Chinese government’s restrictions, foreign journalists can hardly gain access to Xinjiang to conduct interviews,” he says on the video, which includes English subtitles and was posted on YouTube in early October. “I thought to myself, foreign journalists can’t go there, but good for me, I can.”
Guanguan says in the documentary’s introduction that the Chinese government has set up many concentration camps in Xinjiang where local ethnic minorities and dissidents are imprisoned without a trial.
China claims the camps are re-education and vocational training schools. The camps are believed to have held about 1.8 million mostly Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities since 2017. The video has been viewed on YouTube nearly 276,200 times.
The video includes scenes from Kumul (in Chinese, Hami), Mori (Mulei) Kazakh Autonomous County, Fukang, Urumqi (Wulumuqi), the outskirts Korla (Kuerle), and Yunqi. Guanguan says he relied on Mapbox satellite maps from 2017 and China’s Baidu search engine for medium-resolution satellite images.
In Hami in eastern Xinjiang, Guanguan drives by the Hami Compulsory Isolated Drug Rehabilitation Center, which is not marked on the Baidu map. He says he suspects the center is a concentration camp because of bars over the building’s windows and razor wire fencing along the compound walls.
In Mori Kazakh Autonomous County, Guanguan films a detention center flanked by watchtowers and surveillance cameras. He later goes to another location and finds the Mori County Detention Center. Neither building appears on the map.
In Urumqi, he drives down a road with several buildings with watchtowers and high fences topped with barbed wire. A slogan atop one reads, “Reform through labor, cultural reform.”
“This must be the largest cluster of concentration camps in the Urumqi area,” he says.
In the city’s Dabancheng district, Guanguan drives off-road and lies on his belly atop a hill to shoot video of a newly built but apparently unoccupied detention complex.
In Korla, Guanguan finds a military complex with surrounding buildings he assumes are barracks and army trucks parked in the courtyard. Behind the complex, he spots other buildings with watchtowers and wire fencing.
“That is where the concentration camps are located,” he says.
In Yunqi, he finds more buildings with watchtowers and barbed-wire fencing.
“The Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghurs is beyond imagination,” Guanguan says at the end of the video. “One who does not wish to be enslaved cannot bear the sight of others being enslaved. Down with the CCP [Chinese Communist Party], may it be dissolved sooner rather than later so as to end its anti-humanity evildoings.”
Both BuzzFeed and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) published reports about the camps based on satellite imagery.
“I was really amazed when I saw that video,” Alison Killing, an architect and geospatial analyst who helped BuzzFeed create a satellite image map for reports on the camps in Xinjiang, identifying a vast new infrastructure built by the Chinese government for the mass detention of Muslims.
“The first thing that should be said is just how brave that guy was to head off to Xinjiang and to go and look for those camps,” she told RFA on Wednesday.
“It’s really useful to have that ground-level imagery that helps us to corroborate what we’re seeing in the satellite images and helps us to confirm that what we thought we were looking at from above really is vast,” Killing said.
Killing, BuzzFeed reporter Megha Rajagopalan, and Christo Buschek, a programmer and digital security trainer who creates tools for data journalists and human rights defenders, won a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting this year for their story series.
Nathan Ruser, a researcher with ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Center, tweeted on Nov. 14 that Guanguan filmed “some of the largest and most infamous” detention facilities in Xinjiang.
“All in all, he provides visual proof and footage of 18 different detention facilities, and one former facility,” he wrote.