BEIJING - People held in camps in China’s Xinjiang region have now “graduated” and new trainees will have the freedom to come and go, the regional governor said on Monday.

Governor Shohrat Zakir also hit out at Western criticism of the camps and said the United States had launched a smear campaign against Xinjiang.

The United Nations and human rights groups estimate that between 1 million and 2 million people, mostly ethnic Uighur Muslims, have been detained in harsh conditions as part of what Beijing calls an anti-terrorism campaign.

China has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of Uighurs and says the camps provide vocational training. It describes the detainees as students.

“At present the trainees who have participated...have all graduated,” Zakir told a news conference in Beijing. “With the help of the government, stable employment has been achieved and their quality of life has been improved.”

Xinjiang will continue with training based on “independent will” and “the freedom to come and go”, he said.