Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region face “mass internment and torture amounting to crimes against humanity,” Amnesty International said, citing reports. dozens of eyewitness accounts from former detainees, as the group stepped up calls for the camps to be closed.
In a report released Thursday, Amnesty said minority groups had been forced to abandon their religious traditions, language and culture, and subjected to mass surveillance, supporting previous allegations of genocide and ethnic cleansing within a network of hundreds of detention centers.
More than 50 former camp detainees shared new testimony with Amnesty, providing a detailed account of the conditions and treatment of Uyghurs and other groups in internment camps sanctioned by Chinese authorities since 2017, Amnesty said.
“The Chinese authorities have created a dystopian hellish landscape on a staggering scale in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” said Agnes Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International and former UN human rights investigator.
“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 mankind that massive numbers of people have been brainwashed, tortured and other degrading treatment in internment camps, while millions more live. in fear in the midst of a vast surveillance apparatus. “
Torture and other ill-treatment are systematic in the camps and every aspect of daily life is regulated in an effort to forcibly instill secular and homogeneous ideals of the Chinese nation and the Communist Party, according to the 160-page report.
And There you go. ❗️CAUTION❗️ this is a press conference featuring the family and neighbors of @CourUyghur witnesses who can speak under duress. People who have not been seen by their families in exile for a long time.
Just vile cruelty. https://t.co/ZZPwHp1v23 https://t.co/Tp5Tutyf9w pic.twitter.com/Jawet70aTo
– Luke from Pulford (@lukedepulford) June 9, 2021
In recent days, China has also been accused of rolling out birth control policies targeting the same minority groups, aimed at reducing between 2.6 and 4.5 million births within 20 years.
Besides the Uyghurs and Kazakhs, the Hui, Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Tajik minorities in Xinjiang have also been swept away by the campaign.
China has previously rejected charges of genocide and ethnic cleansing, saying the internment camps are vocational training centers aimed at countering the threat of “extremism.”
Beijing also presented family members and former neighbors on Wednesday to rebut testimony from witnesses who appeared before a special UK tribunal investigating allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. However, a human rights activist warned that witnesses in Beijing may be speaking “under duress.”
Interrogation on the “tiger chair”
Since the start of 2017, large numbers of Uyghur men and women as well as other Muslim ethnic minorities have been arbitrarily detained or imprisoned, according to the report.
They include hundreds of thousands who were sent to prisons in addition to the one million the UN estimates were sent to internment camps. Al Jazeera published similar testimonies detailing the experience of Uyghurs inside detention centers.
The more than 50 former detainees told Amnesty that they were detained for what appeared to be completely legal behavior, such as possessing a religious-themed photo or communicating with someone abroad.
Witnesses said many of them were subjected to intense interrogation at police stations, and the process included beatings and sleep deprivation.
They were also made to sit for up to 24 hours in “tiger chairs,” with leg irons and handcuffs that hold the body in painful positions.
A woman, detained for having the WhatsApp messaging platform on her phone, said life in detention was heavily regulated, ranging from an early morning flag raising ceremony to a series of classroom sessions and nocturnal tasks to watch over other cell mates.
“You didn’t have a minute left. You are exhausted, ”said the woman quoted by Amnesty.
Each former detainee interviewed suffered torture or other ill-treatment, including electric shocks, water and sleep deprivation and exposure to extreme cold, among others, according to the report.
An older woman who was punished for standing up for her cellmate said she was taken to a small, dark, cold, windowless room where her hands and feet were handcuffed and forced to sit on an iron chair for three consecutive days.
Two former detainees said they were forced to wear heavy shackles – in one case for an entire year. Others described being shocked with electric batons or sprayed with pepper spray.
Some inmates said they were tortured multiple times, while others said they were forced to watch their cell mates being tortured.
Amnesty International has been informed of one case in which a detainee died after being immobilized on a tiger chair in front of his cell mates for 72 hours, during which he urinated and defecated on himself.
“China must immediately dismantle the internment camps, release those arbitrarily detained in these camps and prisons, and end the systematic attacks against Muslims in Xinjiang,” Callamard said.
“The international community must speak out and act in unison to end this abomination, once and for all. “
In February, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi defended Beijing’s policy towards Uyghurs and other groups, telling the UN Human Rights Council that “there has never been a so-called genocide, forced labor or religious oppression in Xinjiang ”.
He also invited the UN human rights commissioner to visit the closed region but gave no deadline.
Amnesty said it would step up its campaign to secure the release of more than 60 missing Muslim minorities suspected of being held in Xinjiang.
Meanwhile, Beijing faces more pressure as lawyers submitted new evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) that China is forcibly returning thousands of people from Xinjiang from Tajikistan to China.
Beijing denies allegations of abuse and is not a signatory to the ICC statute. Tajikistan is a member, and lawyers hope that its membership could be a way to bring allegations of ill-treatment inflicted on Uyghurs by China to court.
“Based on this new evidence package presented to the ICC prosecutor, showing the actions of Chinese authorities directly in Tajikistan – an ICC state party – it is clear that the ICC has jurisdiction to initiate an investigation,” Rodney Dixon , a lawyer representing Uyghur groups, said in a statement.