By Faith Lanyero
China’s far western region of Xinjiang has become a “dystopian hellscape” where Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities face systematic and state-organised “mass internment and torture amounting to crimes against humanity”, Amnesty International said in a new report.
In a study published on Thursday, Amnesty said the 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 committed within a network of hundreds of detention centres.
More than 50 former camp detainees shared new testimony with Amnesty, providing a detailed inside account of the conditions and treatment of Uighurs and other groups in the internment camps sanctioned by Chinese authorities since 2017, Amnesty said.
In recent days, China has also been accused of rolling out birth-control policies targeting the same minority groups, aiming to cut between 2.6 to 4.5 million births within 20 years.
China has previously rejected the genocide and ethnic cleansing charges, saying the internment camps are vocational training centres aimed at countering the threat of “extremism”.
Since early 2017, huge numbers of Uighur men and women as well as other Muslim ethnic minorities have been arbitrarily detained or imprisoned, the report said.
They include hundreds of thousands who have been sent to prisons in addition to the one million the UN estimates to have been sent to the internment camps.
All of the more than 50 former detainees told Amnesty they were detained for what appeared to be entirely lawful conduct, such as possessing a religiously themed picture or communicating with someone abroad
The witnesses said that many of them underwent intense interrogation at police stations, and the process included beatings and sleep deprivation.
They were also made to sit up to 24 hours in so-called “tiger chairs”, with affixed leg irons and handcuffs that restrain the body in painful positions.
Every former detainee interviewed suffered torture or other ill-treatment, including electric shocks, water and sleep deprivation and exposure to extreme cold among others, the report said.
An older woman who was punished for defending her cellmate said she was taken to a small, dark, cold and windowless room where she had her hands and feet cuffed and was forced to sit on an iron chair for three days straight.
Some detainees reported being tortured multiple times, while others said they were forced to watch their cellmates being tortured.
Amnesty International learned of one case where a detainee is believed to have died as a result of being restrained in a tiger chair, in front of his cellmates, for 72 hours, during which time he urinated and defecated on himself.
“China must immediately dismantle the internment camps, release the people arbitrarily detained in them and in prisons, and end the systematic attacks against Muslims in Xinjiang,” said Callamard.
A United States Senate committee held a hearing on Thursday addressing the alleged atrocities in Xinjiang with testimony from Uighur advocates and US researchers.
The US in March joined the EU, UK and Canada in levying specific sanctions on Chinese officials for what Secretary of State Antony Blinken called “genocide and crimes against humanity”.
In February, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi defended Beijing’s policy towards Uighurs and other groups, telling the UN Human Rights Council that “there has never been so-called genocide, forced labour or religious oppression in Xinjiang”.