Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region face systematic state-organized mass imprisonment, torture and persecution amounting to crimes against humanity, Amnesty International said as it released a new report.
In the 160-page report, ‘Like We Were Enemies in a War’: China’s Mass Internment, Torture, and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response team released dozens of new testimonies from former detainees detailing the extreme measures taken by Chinese authorities since 2017 to essentially root out the religious traditions, cultural practices and local languages of the region’s Muslim ethnic groups.
Carried out under the guise of fighting “terrorism”, these crimes have targeted ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Hui, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Tajiks.
Chinese authorities have built one of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance systems and a vast network of hundreds of grim “transformation-through-education” centres – actually, internment camps – throughout Xinjiang.
Torture and other ill-treatment is systematic in the camps and every aspect of daily life is regimented in an effort to forcibly instil a secular, homogeneous Chinese nation and Communist party ideals.
“The Chinese authorities have created a dystopian hellscape on a staggering scale in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
"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,” said Callamard.
“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,” said Callamard.
The report documents how, since early 2017, huge numbers of men and women from predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have been arbitrarily detained.
They include hundreds of thousands who have been sent to prisons in addition to hundreds of thousands – perhaps even a million or more – who have been sent to internment camps.
All of the more than 50 former detainees Amnesty International interviewed were detained for what appears to be entirely lawful conduct, such as possessing a religious-themed picture or communicating with someone abroad.
A government cadre who participated in mass arrests in late 2017 told the organization how police took people from their homes without warning and detained them without any due process.
Most survivors who spoke to Amnesty International were first interrogated at police stations, where they had their biometric and medical data recorded before being transferred to a camp.
They were often interrogated in “tiger chairs” – steel chairs with affixed leg irons and handcuffs that restrain the body in painful positions. Beatings, sleep deprivation and overcrowding are rampant in the police stations, and detainees reported being hooded and shackled during their interrogation and transfer.