Fake tourists and car crashes: How China blocks reporters in Xinjiang

Detainees listening to speeches in a re-education camp in Lop County, Xinjiang, April 2017

Eva XIAO 
AFP
June 26, 2019

The three men were so busy staging a fake car crash they failed to notice the very people they were trying to block: foreign journalists heading towards one of China's notorious internment camps.

A small truck slowly inched towards a car parked on the road before stopping -- just short of contact -- as the reporters drove past the scene.

The "accident" later drew a crowd of onlookers as a line of trucks queued down the highway. Police halted traffic, blocking the road leading towards the camp.

Though a botched attempt, this incident illustrates the great lengths Chinese authorities go to obstruct journalists from covering topics deemed sensitive in Xinjiang, a restive northwest region where large numbers of mostly Muslim ethnic minorities have been rounded up into re-education camps.

On a recent six-day trip to Xinjiang, AFP was able to document three of them -- razor-wired complexes with imposing block buildings.

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