Firsthand Accounts From Xinjiang Camps

Firsthand Accounts From Xinjiang Camps

A massive, long-running security crackdown in Xinjiang has included the detention of an estimated 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a series of internment camps across the region. Two recent reports from Human Rights Watch–one on the “Integrated Joint Operations Platform” (IJOP) predictive policing system used to fill the camps from last year, and another released this month detailing how police interact with the IJOP–help to explain how authorities are filling those camps. Several recent reports, meanwhile, provide a glimpse into the conditions inside the camps. At CNN, Matt Rivers and Lily Li relay horrific stories of abuse and indoctrination of inmates in a Xinjiang internment camp from a former camp employee. Sayragul Sauytbay, a 41-year-old ethnic Kazakh woman who served as a teacher at a Xinjiang camp, fled Xinjiang for Kazakhstan with forged papers last year to unite with her family, and stood trial there for illegal border crossing (she was found guilty, but the judge decided to block her extradition to China).

“I knew that all people there were not guilty of anything,” she said. “I could do nothing to help them avoid suffering. That’s why I decided that one day I would publicize what’s happening there.”

[…] “They told me to tell them, ‘The Communist Party has led you to this day. The fact that you are living is thanks to the Communist Party. You have made a mistake by failing to know the Chinese language. The lack of your knowledge of the Chinese language is a treachery of the state’,” she said.

[…] Sauytbay said there were severe punishments for those who did not make enough “progress” in learning the language or even traditional Chinese terms for things like burials and holidays.

“Those who cannot learn fast enough or meet daily goals are deprived of food. The food itself is so bad. For three meals they give rice porridge, one ladle of it, and one piece of bread … They are also subject to sleep deprivation,” she said.

For those who were not easily taught or who fought back against the ideology, Sauytbay claimed, even darker methods of coercion were used. […] [Source]

Wired’s Isobel Cockerell offers a comprehensive summary of the many aspects of the ongoing rights crisis in Xinjiang. After providing context on the massive surveillance state that Xinjiang has become in recent years and the way that widely popular Chinese messaging app WeChat has been used to surveil at home and implicate those with connections abroad, Cockerell provides another former camp inmate’s account of her internment:

Gulbahar Jalilova, 54, a Uyghur clothes retailer from Kazakhstan, spent one year, three months and 10 days in detention centers and camps in Urumqi. She now lives in Istanbul. According to her arrest warrant in China, issued by the Urumqi Public Security Bureau, she was detained “for her suspicious involvement in terrorist activities in the region.” Police accused her of money laundering via one of her employees in Urumqi, who was also arrested. Jalilova denies the charges, saying that they were a mere pretext.

[…] Jalilova was taken to a kanshousuo, one of the many temporary detention centers in the Xinjiang capital. Over the next 15 months, she was transferred to three different jails and camps in Urumqi. She is precise and exacting in her memory of life in detention: a 10-by-20 foot cell, with up to 50 people sitting in tightly packed rows, their feet tucked beneath them.

Jalilova, who has struggled with her memory since being released in August 2018, keeps a notebook where she has written down all the names of the women who were in the cell with her. She also notes the reasons for their arrest, which include downloading WhatsApp—a blocked app in China—storing the numbers of prominent Uyghur scholars, and being caught with religious content on their phones. […] [Source]

At NPR, Rob Schmitz reports on authorities ongoing attempts to portray the camps as benign institutions aimed at bettering the lives of its detainees–most of whom didn’t realize the illegality of the offenses they committed:

On the fifth day of a government-sponsored media tour last month, at a detention facility in the far-western city of Kashgar, two dozen Uighur detainees belted out the American children’s song “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands.”

[…] It was a tough sell. The detainees have been locked away for months — for being, as authorities put it, “infected with extremist thoughts.” The U.S. and United Nations estimate that China has detained hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other Muslims in internment camps in the vast, predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang.

Some who have been released and managed to flee China have described these places to NPR as concentration camps where authorities brainwash detainees with Communist Party doctrine. Some claim they were tortured.

[…] “People here have been infected by extremist thoughts,” says Mahmut [the ethnic Uighur principal of what authorities call the Kashgar Vocational Education and Training Center]. “They broke the relevant laws, but their crimes are so minor that they are exempted from criminal punishment. The government wants to save and educate them, converting them here at this center.” […] [Source]

See also a video investigation into the situation from France24, including horrific testimony about the conditions inside the camps; a Vox video report describing how academics, journalists, and former detainees are managing to inform the world despite authorities’ efforts to downplay the situation; or a New York Times podcast interview with Ferkat Jawdat, an American Uyghur who is fighting to free his imprisoned relatives from the U.S.


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