(photo credit: BOBBY YIP/ REUTERS)
BEIJING - Anti-China forces are behind criticism of policies in the far western region of Xinjiang, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Tuesday, after a UN panel aired accusations that a million ethnic Uighurs may be held in internment camps there.
China has said Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists who plot attacks and stir up tension between the mostly Muslim Uighur minority who call the region home and the ethnic Han Chinese majority.
During the past two years, authorities have dramatically stepped up security and surveillance there, likened by critics to near martial law conditions, with armed police checkpoints, reeducation centers, and mass DNA collection.
Members of a United Nations human panel reviewing China's rights record have said they received credible reports that 1 million ethnic Uighurs are held in what resembles a "massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy."
The "ulterior motives" of anti-China forces were behind the "unfounded" slandering of the country's anti-terrorism measures, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement, however.
"Any defamatory rumors are futile," Lu said, adding that the situation in Xinjiang was stable with communities of all ethnicities getting along harmoniously, and economic development enjoying good momentum.
"People of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang cherish the current situation of living and working in peace and happiness."
China has never officially confirmed the existence of detention centers in Xinjiang, but its treatment of Uighurs, as well as accounts of its use of relatives in China as leverage to silence a vocal diaspora, have spurred an international outcry.
China officially guarantees freedom of religion, but in recent years officials nervous about the possibility of radicalization and violence have tightened controls in heavily Muslim areas.
China's policy of "Sinification" of religion has increasingly alarmed many in other Muslim groups, who fear the government is widening strict curbs in Xinjiang to additional Muslim areas, such as the region of Ningxia and Gansu province.
In the crackdown, the government has banned religious education for young people in mosques, ordered that the call to prayer over loudspeakers be silenced in some places, and sought to stamp out what it sees as Arab elements in mosques.
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