Women Detained in Xinjiang Camps Report Systematic Rape

An investigation by the BBC has uncovered evidence of systemic rape in Xinjiang internment camps, where approximately one million Uyghurs are believed to be or have been imprisoned. In January, on the last day of the Trump administration the U.S. State Department designated persecution in Xinjiang “genocide,” a move that the Biden administration has signaled support for. The shocking allegations in the BBC report include sexual humiliation, gang rape, and electrocution. Matthew Hill, David Campanale, and Joel Gunter report on former detainees’ accounts of mass sexual violence:

[…] “My job was to remove their clothes above the waist and handcuff them so they cannot move,” said Gulzira Auelkhan, crossing her wrists behind her head to demonstrate. “Then I would leave the women in the room and a man would enter – some Chinese man from outside or policeman. I sat silently next to the door, and when the man left the room I took the woman for a shower.”

[…] Another teacher forced to work in the camps, Sayragul Sauytbay, told the BBC that “rape was common” and the guards “picked the girls and young women they wanted and took them away”.

She described witnessing a harrowing public gang rape of a woman of just 20 or 21, who was brought before about 100 other detainees to make a forced confession. [Source]

While sexual crimes are difficult to fully corroborate generally, the claims are exponentially more difficult to vet in Xinjiang due to surveillance and interference, and the report acknowledges that portions of its investigation, which drew on videotaped interviews with survivors, testimony from a former camp guard, and expert commentary, cannot be fully verified. Nonetheless, the preponderance of evidence presented in the report supports claims of systematized sexual violence against Uyghur women. Tursunay Ziawudun, who fled Xinjiang after her release and is now in the U.S., said women were removed from the cells “every night” and raped by one or more masked Chinese men. She said she was tortured and later gang-raped on three occasions, each time by two or three men. The BBC’s report also cites former detainees who were clear that camp guards, even those ostensibly not involved in the violence, were aware of rape and torture. Watch video of the the women’s testimony here.


Violence against Xinjiang detainees has been widely documented. In a 2019 interview with Haaretz, a premier Israeli newspaper, Sayragul Sauytbay (the teacher quoted in the BBC report) alleged gang rape in detail. Other violations of bodily autonomy documented in the BBC report serve to support earlier allegations published elsewhere. In September 2020, the Guardian published an interview with Qelbinur Sidik, who was sterilized against her will in 2019. In-depth interviews with former detainees conducted between November 2019 to May 2020 by the U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia Department of Research, Training, and Evaluation, likewise found widespread physical abuse:

All participants described extensive use of extreme violence and torture in detention centers and prisons to extract forced confessions to a range of offenses relating to Uyghur nationalism or religious extremism. Extreme violence and torture also appear common as punishments for infractions of behavioral rules or for failure to correctly memorize songs or slogans. Participants described themselves and others as having been subjected to many of the forms of torture catalogued by the International Society for Human Rights and Amnesty International, such as severe beatings, including with electric batons and with rubber straps designed not to leave marks; twisting and overstretching of limbs, including through specific instruments of torture such as the “iron/tiger chair”; forced abidance in painful positions; hanging; electroshocks; hunger and thirst; and isolation in painful conditions.

[…] Another said that staff may face questions from other government officials if a detainee is injured or dies. “They are very frightened of people with high blood pressure and heart disease. There is tension between the security bureau and the courts; they are opposing each other. If a prisoner dies because of the police, because of the guards, it will be recorded,” said one participant. However, other participants said that they had witnessed people beaten to death and dying of injuries sustained during torture. Said one participant: “I saw girls coming back from interrogation who fainted; they would scream and cry madly, and the police would repeat the interrogation again and again until they lost their minds. A 27-year-old girl died from that.” [Source]

The Chinese government denies all allegations of systematic violence. In a February 3 press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “The report on alleged abuses of women’s rights in Xinjiang you mentioned has no factual basis at all.”

Uyghurs fleeing persecution have not always found safe haven abroad. Those applying to reside in the United States are often ensnared by the country’s byzantine immigration system. Those fleeing to Turkey are now facing a possible extradition treaty between the country and China. China’s National People’s Congress recently ratified an extradition treaty between the two countries, which Turkey has not yet ratified. Uyghur-rights groups have rallied against the treaty, warning that it exposes refugees to repatriation and abuse. At The Wall Street Journal, Eva Xiao reported on fears that a recent uptick in arrests of Uyghurs in Turkey portends a mass deportation of asylum-seekers back to China:

Local police accused her husband, Abdullah Metseydi, of engaging in terrorism, said Melike, who asked to withhold her surname, which is different from her husband’s. One officer said her husband had conducted “activities against China,” she said, before he was taken to a deportation center, where he remains.

[…] Like many foreigners in Turkey accused of terrorism, Uighurs are first sent to deportation centers before allegations are thoroughly investigated, said Mehmet Okatan, a lawyer who had more than 20 Uighur clients last year with that experience. Many are eventually released because of a lack of evidence, but the accused, including children and elderly people, can languish in deportation centers for as long as a year, he said.

[…] According to Mr. Doğan, [a law professor], the number of Uighurs arrested and sent to deportation centers has increased significantly during the past four months. Mr. Okatan estimates that more than a hundred Uighurs have been detained in the past half-year. The Wall Street Journal couldn’t independently verify the number of Uighurs detained.

[…] “When we first came, Turkey embraced us,” said 24-year-old Melike, who moved to Turkey in 2014 to practice religion more freely. Now, she said, she worries her husband could be deported back to China. [Source]


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