Amnesty International released a report with new witness accounts detailing the tortures and abuse of Muslims in the Xinjiang province of China, calling the actions “crimes against humanity.”
The group conducted interviews with people who had been detained in internment camps in the region, places that the Chinese government has called “re-education camps.” The detailed and disturbing accounts should lead to a broader international response, if not from governments, then from members of the celebrity community who heavily align themselves with human rights issues.
The result was a 160-page report with new testimonials from over 50 former camp detainees that show the government’s cruel treatment of Muslim minorities. Amnesty said, “Carried out under the guise of fighting ‘terrorism,’ these crimes have targeted ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Hui, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Tajiks.”
The former detainees included in the report were taken to the camps “for what appears to be entirely lawful conduct, such as possessing a religious-themed picture or communicating with someone abroad,” Amnesty said.
One woman was put in an internment camp for having WhatsApp on her phone. She said:
[Every day] you get up at 5am and have to make your bed, and it had to be perfect. Then there was a flag-raising ceremony and an “oath-taking.” Then you went to the canteen for breakfast. Then to the classroom. Then lunch. Then to the classroom. Then dinner. Then another class. Then bed. Every night two people had to be “on duty” [monitoring the other cellmates] for two hours… There was not a minute left for yourself. You are exhausted.
In the camps, nearly all of the detainees interviewed were forced to attend intensive classes, which “often involved memorizing and reciting ‘red’ songs – that is, revolutionary songs that praise the CCP and the People’s Republic of China,” according to the report.
Yerulan, a former detainee, told Amnesty, “I think the purpose [of the classes] was to destroy our religion and to assimilate us… They said that we couldn’t say ‘as-salamu alaykum’ and that if we were asked what our ethnicity was we should say ‘Chinese’… They said that you could not go to Friday prayers… And that it was not Allah who gave you all, it was Xi Jinping. You must not thank Allah; you must thank Xi Jinping for everything.”
They were continually watched in the camp and had no space to themselves. “There was insufficient food, water, exercise, healthcare, sanitary and hygienic conditions, fresh air, and exposure to natural light,” the report said.
All of the former detainees who were interviewed by Amnesty International experienced torture or were “subjected to other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” while in the camp.
Mansur, a farmer, told Amnesty the ways in which he was tortured many times in two camps.
Two guards took me from the cell and dropped me off [at the room where I was interrogated]. Two men were inside… [They asked what I did in Kazakhstan,] “Did you pray there? What do your parents do?” I said I only stayed with family, that I took care of livestock, and that I didn’t do anything illegal… they asked me about mosque and praying… If I told them I had been praying, I had heard that I would get sentenced for 20 or 25 years. So I told them I never prayed. Then they became upset. They said, “All that time with livestock, you became an animal too!” Then they hit me with a chair until it broke… I fell to the floor. I almost fainted… Then they put me on the chair again. They said, “this guy hasn’t changed yet, he needs to stay [in the camp] longer.”
Amnesty included one example of a detainee describing the death of a prisoner while in the camp. The prisoner was forced to sit in an iron chair with his arms and legs cuffed and chained for three nights. “His body was tied to the back of the chair… Two [cuffs] were locked around his wrists and legs… A rubber thing attached to the ribs to make the person [sit] up straight…He would [urinate and defecate] in the chair,” the former detainee said. The man in the chair died after he was removed from the cell.
Amnesty International said that most of the detainees with whom they conducted interviews were held in the camps for 9-18 months. The detainees who were let go from the camps “were forced to sign a document that forbade them from speaking with anybody – especially journalists and foreign nationals – about what they experienced in the camp.”
Amnesty discovered that nearly all of the interviewed former detainees, once released, were forced to endure a continuation of their “education,” some being placed in factories to work. “All former detainees Amnesty International interviewed said they were placed under both electronic and in-person surveillance and subjected to regular evaluations from government employees and cadres,” the report stated. “They were also forced to publicly ‘confess’ their ‘crimes’ at flag-raising ceremonies,” it noted.
Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said, “The Chinese authorities have created a dystopian hellscape on a staggering scale in Xinjiang. Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities face crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations that threaten to erase their religious and cultural identities.”
“It should shock the conscience of humanity that massive numbers of people have been subjected to brainwashing, torture and other degrading treatment in internment camps, while millions more live in fear amid a vast surveillance apparatus,” Callamard added.
Whether or not it shocks the “conscience of humanity” will remain to be seen. Although several countries have denounced China’s cruelties in the Xinjiang region, with the United States and allies imposing sanctions on officials in China earlier this year, the world continues to wait and see what action will be taken in defense of human rights.