New Accounts Describe Torture, Forced Labor Facing Xinjiang Detainees

More evidence is accumulating on torture in Xinjiang’s mass internment camps, referred to by the Chinese government as “Vocational Education and Training Centers.” New testimony from a former Chinese police detective and numerous witnesses in the Uyghur Tribunal have provided greater detail on the CCP’s reported atrocities against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The growing momentum for international actors to confront the Chinese government on this human rights issue has motivated increased scrutiny from the U.N. and pushback from Chinese delegations. Accountability and justice remain elusive. 

On Tuesday, CNN published an interview with a former Chinese police detective turned whistleblower, now living in exile in Europe. As one of very few members of the Chinese security services to openly discuss the Xinjiang internment camps, he offered new detail about the systematic torture reportedly being perpetrated on Uyghur detainees. The detective said that while working at a police station in a different province, he was sent to Xinjiang on several temporary postings to support the “Strike Hard” anti-terrorism campaign. This was part of a program called “Aid Xinjiang,” in which 150,000 police officers from around the country were recruited and given lucrative bonuses to work in Xinjiang. The excerpts of his account of systematic torture in the camps contain graphic and disturbing detail: 

“Kick them, beat them (until they’re) bruised and swollen,” Jiang said, recalling how he and his colleagues used to interrogate detainees in police detention centers. “Until they kneel on the floor crying.”

During his time in Xinjiang, Jiang said every new detainee was beaten during the interrogation process — including men, women and children as young as 14.

The methods included shackling people to a metal or wooden “tiger chair” — chairs designed to immobilize suspects — hanging people from the ceiling, sexual violence, electrocutions, and waterboarding. Inmates were often forced to stay awake for days, and denied food and water, he said.

“Everyone uses different methods. Some even use a wrecking bar, or iron chains with locks,” Jiang said. “Police would step on the suspect’s face and tell him to confess.”

[…] “If you want people to confess, you use the electric baton with two sharp tips on top,” Jiang said. “We would tie two electrical wires on the tips and set the wires on their genitals while the person is tied up.”

[…] One “very common measure” of torture and dehumanization was for guards to order prisoners to rape and abuse the new male inmates, Jiang said. [Source]

The brutality of detention in Xinjiang was also documented by survivors of the internment camps during the second round of the Uyghur Tribunal, a non-governmental people’s tribunal which took place in London. During the first round of the tribunal in early June, and the second round in mid-September, over 70 witnesses and experts testified before an independent panel chaired by prominent British barrister Sir Geoffrey Nice. In December, the tribunal is expected to convene again to issue a non-binding verdict on whether the Chinese government is guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity

Throughout the tribunal, witnesses shared harrowing accounts of torture. Baqitali Nur described how prison guards tied his cellmate by the hands and suspended him for four consecutive days without his feet touching the ground, while he was beaten with a stun baton. Gulzire Awulqanqizi described how she was routinely forced to restrain female detainees while male prison guards raped them. Orynbek Koksebek described being subjected to beatings and multiple days of solitary confinement in a pitch-black room. Abdusalam Muhammad described how 70-year-old women were forced on long runs, and were beaten and kicked by guards if they ran too slowly or fell down.

As a result of this torture and mistreatment, many Uyghurs have died in detention. This was the reported fate of prominent Uyghur businessman and philanthropist Yaqub Haji, who was confirmed to have died in an internment camp in late September, after being arrested in 2018 on suspicion of “religious extremism.” The government campaign has targeted many Uyghur businessmen, whose assets and properties are often seized and sold during their detentions. Radio Free Asia described how Haji was tortured for not confessing to the “crime” of philanthropy:

Another friend of Haji’s who recently left Ghulja said Haji had been detained for his religious philanthropic contributions and that prison guards gave his body to his older brother after he died.

“I heard from community members that Yaqub Haji was imprisoned because of his donation to the building of the mosque and for giving 3,000 yuan to a religious cleric to build a house,” said the man who asked not to be named for safety reasons.

“He was tortured for not ‘confessing’ to those ‘crimes’ and kept in solitary confinement for a long time,” he said. [Source]

As word of these atrocities spread, the Chinese government has attempted to silence or discredit the victims and push back against any claims of wrongdoing. In the period leading up to the Uyghur Tribunal, the Chinese government tried to hack into organizers’ digital networks, harassed and blackmailed participants, attempted to pressure the venue into not hosting the event, and even tried to book another part of the building to disrupt the proceedings. On September 29, the Chinese delegation to the U.N. held an event titled “Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land.” It took place alongside but separate from the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, just hours after Beijing issued a barrage of sanctions against British public figures and institutions, including the Uyghur Tribunal, that have been critical of China’s human rights abuses. 

Beijing has not been able hold back the tide of international scrutiny, however. In September, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stated that her office was preparing to publicize a report on the Chinese government’s alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and regretted that she has so far been denied access to the region. Human Rights Watch’s China Director Sophie Richardson wrote that the high-level public U.N. commitment was a strong signal that the Chinese government may soon be held to account for its actions. There is also mounting evidence that the campaign of re-education and torture in Xinjiang was not simply the product of local officials seeking to address local problems, but was in fact outlined and approved by the central government, notably by the Politburo Standing Committee.

Other recent developments have refocused global attention on detention and torture in Xinjiang. The return of the “Two Michaels” to Canada after over 1,000 days of detention was a visible reminder of the Chinese government’s extralegal practice of RSDL, residential surveillance at a designated location, which amounts to enforced disappearance and torture, according to human-rights experts. While many rejoiced at the Michaels’ return, there have been increased calls for deploying similar diplomatic resources to bring home Canadian citizens of Uyghur ethnicity still trapped in Chinese prison camps. One such individual is Huseyin Celil, a Candian citizen detained in 2006, who has allegedly been subjected to torture and forced confession

Given mounting evidence of the scale and systematic nature of torture, forced confessions, mass surveillance, property seizures and indentured labor in Xinjiang, governments and corporations are starting to take action to eliminate their complicity in these human rights abuses. Whether complicity involves directly selling biometric surveillance systems to Chinese law enforcement, producing cotton textiles or solar panels with detainee labor, or sourcing products from factories whose supply chains are tainted by forced labor practices, detection and enforcement can prove difficult. As the Guardian’s Johana Bhuiyan noted, there is still a long way to go in holding companies accountable for their complicity in systems of surveillance and torture in Xinjiang: 

The proliferation of face detection to monitor Uyghurs was a direct “outcome of state policy”, Ipvm’s government director, Conor Healy, said in his expert testimony submitted to the [Uyghur] tribunal. The feature is “routinely specified in tenders for public surveillance projects”, he wrote.

[…] Of the 11 companies reported at the hearings to potentially play a role in the Chinese surveillance state, six have been placed on the US entity list for complicity in human rights violations.

[…] Local and state entities in the US also continue to purchase equipment manufactured by some of these companies. Since 2019, at least 375 organizations have bought Dahua and Hikvision products, government procurement data shows. 

[…] In addition to other companies such as Tiandy and Uniview, which also reportedly developed Uyghur face detection, Alibaba has not appeared on any of the ban lists. [Source]

A recent exclusive by Cate Cadell of Reuters detailed how U.S. remote-control maker Universal Electronics Inc. (UEI) cooperated with Xinjiang officials to transport hundreds of Uyghur workers to work at its factory in the distant southern city of Qinzhou, the first confirmed instance of an American company being involved in a detainee-labor transfer program. The article also revealed just how thoroughly detainee labor has infiltrated the supply chain—not just in Xinjiang, but now in other regions of China, as well. 

UEI’s Uyghur employees are part of a much bigger system. Two separate labor agents hired by Hotan and Kashgar authorities in Xinjiang told Reuters they had each been set targets of placing as many as 20,000 Uyghurs annually with companies outside the region.

They, and one other agent, showed Reuters copies of three contracts for transfers already completed this year. These included a January contract to transport 1,000 workers to an auto parts factory in Xiaogan, Hubei province, who had to undergo “political screening” prior to transfer.

The three agents told Reuters that separate dormitories, police escorts and payments overseen by third-party agents are routine elements in such transfers.

“Uyghur workers are the most convenient workers for companies,” one of the agents told Reuters. “Everything is managed by the government.” [Source]

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