China Muslim Uighurs
A Uighur family pray at the grave of a loved one Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

China is detaining at least 120,000 Muslim Uighurs in Mao-era re-education camps, according to a report.

Uighurs are ethnic Turks who account for around 46% of the population in China's northwestern Xinjiang region.

But since April 2017, Uighurs accused of having extremist and "politically incorrect" views have been imprisoned in re-education camps throughout Xinjiang, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA), a US-backed news outlet.

A security chief of the Chasa township in Kashgar city in Xinjiang told the outlet that "approximately 120,000" were being held throughout the region.

Xinjiang has made headlines in recent months after reports emerged that it was turning into a police state after the arrival of Chen Quanguo, a communist party hardliner who quashed social unrest in Tibet.

Quanguo was drafted in to "pacify Xinjiang" in 2016 and has recruited tens of thousands of security officials to "keep tabs on the roughly 10 million Uighurs" living in the region, the Guardian reported last year.

In 2017, when Xi Jinping became China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, the region's re-education facilities were "inundated" by Uighurs, it was reported. They were forced to live in cramped and squalid conditions, according to the RFA report.

Chasa's security chief told RFA that there were "around 2,000 [people detained] from the four neighborhoods of Kashgar city, as well as an additional 30,000 in total from the city's 16 villages".

There are four re-education centres in Kashgar city, the largest of which was opened in May 2017, according to the security chief.

Maya Wang, a campaigner for Human Rights Watch, told IBTimes UK that the 120,000 was "certainly possible, though in an increasingly repressive region like Xinjiang, reliable figures are very hard to come by."

She said Muslim Uighurs living in China "face very strict restrictions on their ethnic and religious expression"

"In one of the latest rules imposed by the Xinjiang government last April, parents are prohibited from giving their baby certain names common to Muslims around the world, such as Saddam and Medina, on the basis that they could 'exaggerate religious fervor'," she said.

In September, HRW called on the Chinese government to close down all the re-education centres in Xinjiang. The campaign group said that inmates were forced to watch state propaganda videos, recite Chinese policies and renounce their religious and ethnic identities.

Wang said detainees receive "a form of 'patriotic' education" at the centres. "People there are required to 'study' Xi thought, to sing patriotic songs and to learn Mandarin, the language spoken by the majority of Han Chinese," she said.

Government must address the situation in Xinjiang directly with their Chinese counterparts when visiting the country but also at international forums like the UN, Wang added.

China Muslim Uighurs
Muslim ethnic Uighurs protest in Urumqi in China's far west Xinjiang province PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images