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China blanks out map to hide vast network of Uighur detention camps

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In this Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, photo, a guard tower and barbed wire fences are seen around a facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China's Xinjiang region. This is one of a growing number of internment camps in the Xinjiang region, where by some estimates 1 million Muslims are detained, forced to give up their language and their religion and subject to political indoctrination. Now, the Chinese government is also forcing some detainees to work in manufacturing and food industries. Some of them are within the internment camps; others are privately owned, state-subsidized factories where detainees are sent once they are released. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

More than 250 newly-built compounds across Xinjiang region appear on western map services.

The Chinese government has been accused of blanking out images of Uighur internment camps from one of the most popular map services in the country.

China is currently under fire for the detention of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in the far western Chinese state of Xinjiang, in what most label to be the “largest-scale detention of ethic and religious minorities since World War II”.

By comparing Western and Chinese mapping applications, BuzzFeed this week revealed that Beijing is blocking images of camps, prisons and military facilities when viewed through the Baidu mapping service.

Baidu, which offers a satellite service much like Google Maps, is based in China and is frequently subject to rigorous censorship. But by checking the blanked out spaces, BuzzFeed found a vast network of “268 newly-built compounds”, many of which contain multiple detention facilities.

“Once we found that we could replicate the blank tile phenomenon reliably, we started to look at other camps whose locations were already known to the public to see if we could observe the same thing happening there,” BuzzFeed says.

“Having established that we could probably find internment camps in this way, we examined Baidu’s satellite tiles for the whole of Xinjiang… In total there were five million masked tiles across Xinjiang.

“They seemed to cover any area of even the slightest strategic importance – military bases and training grounds, prisons, power plants, but also mines and some commercial and industrial facilities.”

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