Uyghurs Speak Out About Camps at Risk of Death

Following months of reporting from news media and academic researchers on the extent and conditions of internment camps in , where up to 1.8 million and other Turkic Muslims have been held for political indoctrination, forced labor, and forced cultural assimilation, the Chinese government has now declared that inmates have “graduated,” without providing any evidence. From Yanan Wang at AP:

Shohrat Zakir, Xinjiang’s Uighur governor, made the remarks during a press briefing as part of a strident campaign launched following U.S. Congress’ approval last week of the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act.

“When the lives of people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang were seriously threatened by terrorism, the U.S. turned a deaf ear,” Zakir said at a press briefing. “On the contrary, now that Xinjiang society is steadily developing and people of all ethnicities are living and working in peace, the U.S. feels uneasy, and attacks and smears Xinjiang.”

All those in the centers who were studying Mandarin Chinese, law, vocational skills and deradicalization have “graduated” and found stable employment, Zakir said, adding that others such as village officials, farmers and unemployed high school graduates continue to enroll on a rolling basis in programs that allow them to “come and go freely.”

Some ex-detainees have told AP they were forced to sign job contracts and barred from leaving factory grounds during weekdays, working long hours for low pay. Many Uighurs abroad also say their relatives are in prison, not camps, after being sentenced on vague charges of extremism. [Source]

A similar government announcement in July that “most” people held in camps had been released was also met with broad skepticism in the absence of any proof. Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy report further on responses to the most recent announcement:

Maya Wang, a senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch who has closely studied Xinjiang, said the party’s claims lacked credibility. “This comes from a government that pretty much lies about most reports coming from the region,” she said.

“If the Chinese government has indeed released people from the camps,” she added, “then it should allow independent observers, including from the United Nations, to enter the region without any kind of restrictions to see for themselves.”

[…] Legal experts have said that even under China’s sweeping powers of detention, there is no sound backing for the camps, which subject inmates to months or years of detention without trial or effective means of appeal. Last month, six experts and officials on United Nations human rights panels also criticized the regulations that China has cited to justify the mass detentions, saying that the rules were “incompatible with China’s obligations under international human rights law.” [Source]


The government has long defended the camps and called them “vocational training” facilities, despite reports that many of those detained are duly employed and highly educated already. Former detainees and their families have provided accounts of ideological indoctrination, forced labor, forced sterilization, and sexual abuse. Many Uyghurs have reported the disappearance of family members, including elderly parents. One such person is Ferkat Jawdat, a U.S. citizen who lives in Virginia, whose mother was put in a camp in 2018. Recently New York Times reporter Paul Mozur traveled to Xinjiang to meet her and hear about her experiences in the camps and upon her release. She recounts being interrogated, tortured, and denied critical medicine for high blood pressure. Authorities later threatened her with death if the audio of the interview was released.

Asiye Abdulaheb, a Uyghur woman living in the Netherlands, recently acknowledged that she had aided in the leak of a trove a government documents that was released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and that provided valuable information about the extent and aims of the camps. Like Ferkat Jawdat and his mother, she stated that going public was worth the risk to help the world understand the situation in Xinjiang. From Elian Peltier, Claire Moses and Edward Wong at The New York Times:

A Dutch newspaper, De Volkskrant, first reported on Ms. Abdulaheb’s role in the dissemination of that second set of documents, based on interviews with her and her ex-husband, Jasur Abibula. Both are Dutch citizens who have lived in the Netherlands since 2009, and they have a 6-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son.

Ms. Abdulaheb said in an hourlong interview in Mandarin Chinese with The Times that she had decided to speak out in the hopes that the publicity would dissuade the Chinese authorities from seeking to harm her or her family.

She said they already knew she had the documents, and she had told Dutch police officers about her situation. She added that the danger of her situation became evident after her husband returned from a trip to Dubai in mid-September during which Chinese security officers told him about the documents, interrogated him about Ms. Abdulaheb and tried to recruit him to spy on her.

[…] Ms. Abdulaheb said she felt relieved to have revealed her identity.

“I have told everything,” she said. “My mind is calm now.” [Source]

Since the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Uyghur Human Rights Bill last week, the Chinese government has escalated its attacks on critics on its policies in Xinjiang, lashing out at researchers who have documented the camps and calling them tools of the CIA.

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