SATELLITE images show that China has built 260 fortified prison camps capable of holding hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims in the last three years.
The revelations come after months of growing international condemnation over China’s internment, indoctrination, and abuse of Uighur people across the Xinjiang province.
Up to 1.5million people are thought to have been detained in the province since 2017 as part of an attempt by the Chinese government to crack down on long-running separatist movements.
Beijing claims the camps are “re-education” centres intended to tackle extremism.
In December, officials claimed that all detainees had “graduated” and been allowed to return to their lives, but evidence suggests that the network of camps has remained populated and continued to expand.
An investigation by Buzzfeed News found that an estimated 260 sites have been purpose-built in the last three years, with at least one in almost every county of Xinjiang.
The centres represent an escalation of the persecution of the Uighur, with detainees previously having been held chiefly in makeshift camps set up in disused schools and other public buildings.
Satellite images show huge compounds surrounded by what Buzzfeed identified as guard posts and a layer of barbed wire on either side of a high wall.
Analysis of the images also suggested that some of the centres have the capacity to house at least 10,000 people.
Drone footage that emerged in September of last year showed scores of shaven-headed and blindfolded people kneeling in rows and surrounded by guards as they waited to be loaded onto a train.
Confronted with the footage during an appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show last month, the Chinese ambassador to the UK said: “I do not know where you get this video tape.
“Sometimes you have a transfer of prisoners. In any country.”
He went on to accuse Western intelligence agencies of making “false accusations” against China.
Accounts from Xinjiang suggest that even those Uighur who have not been detained are facing persecution and harassment.
Reports have emerged of enforced sterilisations, suppression of religious practices, and government officials forcibly moving into families’ homes to conduct surveillance.
Asked last month whether he believed the treatment of the Uighur amounted to genocide, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: “Whatever the legal label, it is clear that gross, egregious human rights abuses are going on.
“It is deeply, deeply troubling and the reports on the human aspect of this – from forced sterilisation to the education camps – are reminiscent of something we have not seen for a very long time.
“We want a positive relationship with China but we can’t see behaviour like that and not call it out.”