Coronavirus would be ‘disastrous’ for China’s Muslim concentration camp prisoners and the world might never find out, Uighur activist warns

David Brennan – February 18, 2020

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Coronavirus poses a serious risk to millions of inmates in China’s Muslim prison camps, where overcrowding and lack of transparency could result in “disastrous” results, according to a Uighur human rights activist.

Jewher Ilham—the daughter of jailed Uighur academic Ilham Tohti—said she is deeply concerned by what she described as China’s slow response to the coronavirus outbreak, particularly with regards to the western Xinjiang province where the Communist Party is suppressing majority-Muslim minority groups.

Up to 3 million people are thought to have been detained in the re-education camps there, which critics argue is part of a cultural genocide against the Muslim minority. The Communist Party government claims the camps are voluntary and required to stamp out separatist and Islamist terrorism in the restive province.

Ilham spoke to Newsweek this week from Switzerland, where she was attending the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. She warned conditions at the detention centers—described by some as concentration camps—offered the perfect chance for coronavirus to spread.

Former inmates and employees have reported systematic abuse, serious overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions inside the camps, which China maintains are voluntary vocational centers.

“If one person—let’s say a prison guard or a concentration camp guard—got infected, it could result in thousands, even millions of people getting infected,” Ilham said. “And without medical equipment, medical doctors and treatment, it could be disastrous.”

Ilham noted that the overcrowding will undermine hygiene and said she was “sure” prisoners were not being fed adequately. Combined, a significant number of those detained could have “very poor immune systems,” she said.