US and Australia call on China to close secret Uighur re-education camps

Western countries including the United States and Australia have called on China to stop detaining Uighurs and other Muslims in secret political re-education camps, which activists say hold one million people.

But China rejected the criticism of its suspected mass detention and heavy surveillance of Uighurs in the western region of Xinjiang, dismissing the allegations as "seriously far away from facts".

"We will not accept the politically driven accusations from a few countries that are fraught with biases and in total disregard of the facts," Le Yucheng — Chinese vice-minister of foreign affairs, who headed a 66-member delegation — told the United Nations Human Rights Council.

At a debate at the Geneva forum — which reports on alleged violations in each UN member state every five years and reviewed China's record on Tuesday — Beijing said it protected the freedoms of its 55 ethnic minorities.

China has said that Xinjiang faces a threat from Islamist militants and separatists.

"Stability is most important, prevention should be put first … Setting up the training centres is a preventive measure to combat terrorism," Mr Le said.

It rejects all accusations of mistreatment and denies mass internment, although Chinese officials have said some citizens guilty of minor offences were being sent to "vocational training centres" to work.

Another Chinese delegate said that authorities were "providing free-of-charge vocational training with a diploma after exams" to those who had been "coerced or lured" by extremist groups.