China Said It Closed Muslim Detention Camps. There’s Reason to Doubt That.

A statue in Hotan, China, of Mao shaking hands with a Uighur villager. Chinese detention camps have swallowed up a million Muslims or more, wrenching them from their families and homes.CreditCreditGilles Sabrie for The New York Times

HOTAN, China — The muscular young Uighur man sat uncomfortably, glancing occasionally at three Chinese officials in the room, as he described his state-mandated salvation in a re-education camp.

The man, Abduweili Kebayir, 25, explained how watching Islamic videos on his phone landed him in one of China’s notorious indoctrination camps for Muslims for eight months — and how he emerged in January as a reformed man.

“Now I know the error of my ways,” he said, as his wife and daughter shuffled nervously around the living room. The room, like the rest of the eerily sparse house where officials who arranged the meeting said he lived, seemed almost staged, decorated with a family portrait, a potted plastic plant and a wall clock that had stopped.

His words at times sounded as rigidly scripted as the government’s propaganda. “Now I know what is right and wrong, and what is legal and illegal,” he said.