During the April tour of No. 3 in Dabancheng, officials repeatedly distanced it from the “training centers” that Beijing claims to have closed.
“There was no connection between our detention center and the training centers,” insisted Urumqi Public Security Bureau director Zhao Zhongwei.
However, despite the claims of officials, the evidence shows No. 3 was indeed an internment camp. A Reuters picture of the entrance in September 2018 shows that the facility used to be called the “Urumqi Vocational Skills Education and Training Center”. Records also show that Chinese conglomerate Hengfeng Information Technology won an $11 million contract for outfitting the “Urumqi training center”.
A former construction contractor who visited the Dabancheng facility in 2018 told the AP that it was the same as the “Urumqi Vocational Skills Education and Training Center,” and had been converted to a detention facility in 2019, with the nameplate switched. He declined to be named for fear of retaliation against his family.
The vast complex is ringed by 25-feet-tall concrete walls painted blue, watchtowers, and humming electric wire. Officials led AP journalists past face-scanning turnstiles and rifle-toting guards in military camouflage.
In one corner of the compound, Zhu Hongbin, the center’s director, rapped on a cell window.
“They’re totally unbreakable,” he said, his voice muffled beneath head-to-toe medical gear.
At the control room, staff gazed at a wall-to-wall, God’s-eye display of some two dozen screens streaming footage from each cell. Another panel played programming from state broadcaster CCTV, which Zhu said was being shown to the inmates.
“We control what they watch,” Zhu said. “We can see if they’re breaking regulations, or if they might hurt or kill themselves.”
The center also screens video classes, Zhu said, to teach them about their crimes.
Twenty-two rooms with chairs and computers allow inmates to chat with lawyers, relatives, and police via video, as they are strapped to their seats. Down the corridor, an office houses a branch of the Urumqi prosecutor’s office, in another sign of the switch to a formal prison system.
A nearby medical room contains a gurney, a tank of oxygen and a cabinet stocked with medicine. Guidelines hanging on the wall instruct staff on the proper protocol to deal with sick inmates – and also to force-feed inmates on hunger strikes by inserting tubes up their noses.
Zhao, the other official, said inmates are held for 15 days to a year before trial depending on their suspected crime.
Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center is comparable in size to Rikers Island in New York City, but the region serves less than four million people compared to nearly 20 million for Rikers. At least three other detention centers are sprinkled across Urumqi, along with ten or more prisons.
The No. 3 center did not appear to be at full capacity; one section was closed, officials said, and the six to ten inmates in each cell took up only half the benches. But the latest official government statistics available, for 2019, show that there were about twice as many arrests in Xinjiang that year than before the crackdown started in 2017. Hundreds of thousands have been sentenced to prison on what relatives often claim are spurious charges.
This article originally appeared here.