(Beijing—Aug. 24, 2019) Buzzfeed News discovered three propaganda ads on Facebook from Chinese state-run media claiming the mass incarceration of millions of ethnic minorities in China’s northwestern Xinjiang, imprisoned only for their race and Muslim faith, curbs violence.
According to Buzzfeed’s report on the discovery, one of the ads came from The Global Times, a mouthpiece for the Chinese government. It claims that should the “vocational education and training centers”—China’s official terminology for an extensive network of concentration camps within Xinjiang—have been established earlier, violent attacks in the region would have lessened. The ad linked to an article on The Global Times’s website, detailing alleged success stories of center “graduates.”
However, numerous accounts of the camps paint a starkly different picture: innocent inmates, mostly from the region’s predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups, have been seized by police and placed there against their will. Once there, they are tortured, starved, and forced to study Chinese propaganda, and prisoners who express support of the Chinese Communist Party receiving preferential treatment. Other reports state concerns that Chinese officials may be raping female prisoners, and some women have been forced to take medication that stops their menstrual cycles, rousing suspicion that the government is attempting to sterilize them against their will.
Moreover, children whose parents are in the camps are often placed in orphanages, taught pro-government material, and forced to speak Mandarin instead of their native languages, which some view as an attempt to wipe them of their ethnic identities.
The Global Times ad was accompanied by video footage showing prisoners in the camps practicing their vocations. The BBC’s John Sudworth, however, previously noted that Chinese officials forbade him and his film crew from accessing certain parts of the camps in an expository documentary and referenced camp survivors who stated that prisoners are often coerced into performing for news organizations, meaning China is controlling what the outside world sees.
The ads were discovered only days after several news sources reported that Twitter had run similar paid promotions from Chinese state media targeting the peaceful protesters of a Hong Kong bill. Both Facebook and Twitter are blocked within China and the messages were written in English, making it likely that the Chinese government is trying to sway international opinion in its favor and smooth over verified allegations of human rights abuse.