It’s a simple video, but effective: Guanguan, as this Chinese youtuber calls himself, films himself in Xinjiang, in the footsteps of the re-education camps he has heard about in the Western media. According to the counts of NGOs and researchers, more than a million members of the Muslim Uighur minority have been interned since 2017 in “Re-education camps”, soon to be renamed “Vocational training centers”. In 2020, he decides to go and see for himself: “Due to Chinese government restrictions, it is very difficult for foreign journalists to report and interview in Xinjiang. So I said to myself: foreign journalists can’t go, but I can! “, explains the blogger, in his thirties, long hair, in an introductory segment.
In fact, unlike in Tibet, foreign journalists can travel to Xinjiang, but it is indeed difficult to conduct investigations there without being quickly restricted by the police. Guanguan, on the other hand, can pretend to be a tourist and roam the Northwestern Autonomous Region of China. And here is the “vloguer” (video blogger) on the way, with one objective: to go to the GPS points identified by researchers, where there are re-education camps, detention centers or prisons. To do this, Guanguan relies in particular on the GPS coordinates of 260 places of detention listed by an investigation by the American media. Buzzfeed, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2021. This research combines satellite images and information collected online to identify these places, many of which do not appear on Chinese maps.
“Crimes against humanity”
In Hami, a town known for its melons located west of Urumqi, the regional capital, Guanguan is controlled when leaving the highway, and is surprised to see a second checkpoint on a country road. But the police, busy checking a truck, are not interested in his vehicle from another province and driven by a Han, the majority ethnic group in China. He stops at the edge of a blooming cotton field, near a gray building that he films with a powerful zoom. But, without approaching it, he cannot confirm its nature.
Further on, it passes a forced detoxification camp for drug addicts, with bars on the windows and barbed wire, then Detention Center No. 13, according to the metal plate at the entrance of the building. The next day, in the Kazakh Autonomous County of Mori, Guanguan films a detention center, surrounded by high walls and watchtowers, and a “Agricultural education and training center”. The perimeter walls are also topped with barbed wire.
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Chinese blogger follows in the footsteps of Xinjiang re-education camps