China denies UN allegation that a million Uighurs held in 'massive internment camp'

China insists there is no "arbitrary detention" and are no "re-education centres" in the Xinjiang region after a UN human rights committee raised concern over reported mass detentions of ethnic Uighurs.

Monitoring groups say Uighurs have been sent to detention, indoctrination centres in recent months

Local villager Yonghong stands next to a window in a log cabin at Khom village of Altay, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, on Jan. 27. Xinjiang has been enveloped in a suffocating blanket of security for years. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

China insists there is no "arbitrary detention" and are no "re-education centres" in the Xinjiang region after a UN human rights committee raised concern over reported mass detentions of ethnic Uighurs.

Beijing responded Monday to questions by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which said Friday that it had received many credible reports that one million ethnic Uighurs in China are being held in what resembles a "massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy."

Gay McDougall, a member of the committee, also cited estimates that two million Uighurs and Muslim minorities were forced into "political camps for indoctrination" in the western Xinjiang autonomous region.

Hu Lianhe, deputy director general of the United Front Work Department of the CPC Central Committee, said Monday that authorities in the far western Xinjiang region were protecting the full rights of all citizens equally.

Hu told the committee "there is no arbitrary detention ... there are no such things as re-education centres." He said Xinjiang provides convicted criminals with skills to reintegrate themselves at "vocational education and employment training centres."

He said "the argument that a million Uighurs are detained in re-education centres is completely untrue."​

People select vegetables at a bazaar ahead of Eid al-Adha festival in Aksu, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region on Aug. 27, 2017. There are roughly 10 million Uighurs in the country. (Reuters)

McDougall said she wasn't convinced by China's "flat denial" of the detention figures. She said China "didn't quite deny" that re-education programs are taking place.

"You said that was false, the one million. Well, how many were there? Please tell me," she said. "And what were the laws on which they were detained, the specific provisions?"

There was no direct response to that in Monday's session, which addressed a broad range of issues that went well beyond the Uighurs.

A paramilitary policeman demonstrates for officers during a security drill in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in March 2014. (Reuters)

Xinjiang has been enveloped in a suffocating blanket of security for years, especially since a deadly anti-government riot broke out in the regional capital of Urumqi in 2009.

In recent months, monitoring groups and eyewitnesses say Uighurs have been summoned from abroad and across China and sent into detention and indoctrination centres.

There are roughly 10 million Uighurs in China, making up a tiny proportion of the country's nearly 1.4 billion people. There has never been an insurgency that could challenge the central government's authority.

With files from Reuters