Authorities in China have arrested almost 13,000 “terrorists” in the restive far western region of Xinjiang since 2014, the government said on Monday.
The announcement was made in a lengthy policy paper again defending Beijing’s controversial “de-radicalisation” measures.
China has faced growing international opprobrium for setting up facilities that United Nations experts describe as detention centres holding more than one million Uighurs and other Muslims.
Beijing says it needs the measures to stem the threat of militancy and calls the jails “vocational training centres”.
Legal authorities have adopted a policy that “strikes the right balance between compassion and severity”, the government said in its white paper.
Since 2014, Xinjiang has “destroyed 1,588 violent and terrorist gangs, arrested 12,995 terrorists, seized 2,052 explosive devices, punished 30,645 people for 4,858 illegal religious activities, and confiscated 345,229 copies of illegal religious materials”, it added.
Global outcry against detention of Uighur Muslims in China
Only a small minority of people face strict punishment, such as ringleaders of armed groups, while those influenced by extremist thinking receive education and training to teach them the error of their ways, the paper said.
The main exiled group, the World Uyghur Congress, swiftly denounced the white paper.
“China is deliberately distorting the truth,” spokesman Dilxat Raxit said in an emailed statement.
“Counter-terrorism is a political excuse to suppress the Uighurs. The real aim of the so-called de-radicalisation is to eliminate faith and thoroughly carry out Sinification.”
The white paper said Xinjiang has faced a particular challenge since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, as “East Turkestan” fighters ramped up activities in Xinjiang.
“They screamed the evil words of ‘getting into heaven by martyrdom with jihad’, turning some people into extremists and terrorists who have been completely mind-controlled, and even turned into murderous devils.”
Religious violence under the banner of Islam runs counter to Islamic doctrines, and is not Islam, it added.
Xinjiang has long been an inseparable part of Chinese territory, and the Uighur ethnic group evolved from a long process of migration and ethnic integration, the paper said.
“They are not descendants of the Turks.”
Turkey is the only Islamic country that has regularly expressed concern about the situation in Xinjiang because of close cultural links with the Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language.
China has denounced Turkish concern as unwarranted and interference in its internal affairs.
Reuters news agency