Two officials who oversee Chinese detention camps in Xinjiang, where brutal abuses are committed against ethnic and religious minorities, won scholarships to study at Harvard University.

The Financial Times revealed Maralbeshi County party secretary Yao Ning studied as a fellow at Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation between 2010 and 2011. 

The publication cited an Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) report that the 36 year-old studied finished his PhD in public policy at both Harvard and Tsinghua University of China during 2014.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) later appointed him as secretary of Maralbeshi County where most Uighur native people live. ASPI researchers identified nine detention centers that were built or expanded since 2017.

“Months before Yao’s arrival, authorities in Maralbeshi sought to recruit 320 new re-education camp staff members,” the report said.

In July 2021, Yao was one of 103 officials who met with Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing where he was honored as “outstanding party secretary” in his county.

Party secretaries are the most senior political posts at a county level. This means Yao is directly responsible for administrating local detention camps.

A 2020 ASPI investigation found satellite images of the huge prison complex with six watchtowers that operated “throughout Yao’s tenure.”

Another commended official was Erken Tuniyaz, who holds the second-highest ranking position in the Xinjiang region. Party Secretary Chen Quanguo was also a Harvard Ash Center fellow during 2012.

Tuniyaz described Uighur internment camps as important “anti-terrorism and deradicalization measures” during February.

Harvard’s Ash Center published a 2012 article that welcomed the two Chinese officials. It confirmed Tuniyaz and a colleague will “attend classes at the Kennedy School and throughout the university, and explore research that promises to inform their professional careers and enrich the center’s portfolio of scholarship on innovation and democratic governance.”

“Not only does the fellows program equip the next generation of Chinese officials with pertinent academic and government experience, the program also serves as a bridge between the United States and China for future collaboration and knowledge sharing,” the center added.

Ash Center spokesman Daniel Harsha confirmed his employer generally admits participants from China.

“Candidates for this programme were only accepted upon the successful completion of the vetting process by the U.S. embassy in Beijing,” he said according to the publication.

The Chinese regime takes extreme measures in preventing accurate information about the situation in Xinjiang from being documented. This makes it difficult to access current data on the exact number of people illegally held at CCP-controlled detention camps.

Since the Xinjiang detention campaign began in 2017 more than 1 million Uighurs, Falun Gong adherents and other ethnic and religious minority groups have been imprisoned.

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