Database Entry: Part 2: Have Any of Xinjiang’s Detention Facilities Closed?

Part 2: Have Any of Xinjiang’s Detention Facilities Closed?

February 26, 2021
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This report, the second in a three-part series, employs a novel empirical approach to systematically assess the current operating status of known detention facilities in Xinjiang using nighttime lighting. This analysis provides new, empirical evidence to suggest that the overwhelming majority of detention facilities in Xinjiang remain active, operational, and in many cases, still under construction – despite Chinese claims to the contrary.

Overall, nearly half of the detention facilities in our dataset (170) experienced uninterrupted growth in nighttime lighting over time, suggesting that these facilities not only remain active to this day, but have continued to expand and grow since their initial construction. Similarly, 53 additional facilities (14 percent) demonstrate stable nighttime lighting signatures, with either inconsequential periods of growth or decline, or cyclical patterns that imply no major changes in operating status over time. In these cases, we rely upon ASPI’s original assessment that these facilities actively serve as detention facilities, finding no evidence from nighttime lighting to suggest otherwise.

For an additional 106 facilities (28 percent), we see major periods of growth in nighttime lighting, followed by a partial decline to levels still well above the nighttime lighting seen prior to its initial growth. This implies, albeit not conclusively, that these facilities experienced either a decline in occupancy or an end to construction efforts, but not complete closure. As such, we assess that these facilities also remain active in some form, at least as of the last month in which we measure nighttime lighting in May 2020.

Combined, this analysis suggests that at least 87 percent of known Uyghur and ethnic minority detention facilities in Xinjiang exhibit nighttime lighting signatures consistent with ongoing detention efforts.