Yesterday German outlet Deutsche Welle published an exclusive story based on interviews with four former detainees at Chinese re-education camps in the western province of Xinjiang. All four described a day, after months of incarceration and propaganda, when officials handed them a list of crimes and told them to choose the ones to which they wanted to confess.
One prisoner was in a hospital wing inside a camp, suffering from tuberculosis he had contracted during his stay, when he was given the list. The man speaks and reads little Chinese, so fellow inmates had to translate for him into the Uighur language.
Another was handed the paper by a teacher through the bars in the camp’s classroom that separated the teaching staff from the students guarded by armed officers sporting stun guns.
“They threatened us: ‘if you don’t pick anything, that means you did not confess your crime. If you don’t confess, you will stay here forever.’ That’s why we picked one crime,” one female detainee who was imprisoned in March 2018 told DW.
The list of “crimes” contained about 70 possible choices, some of which were for things like travel outside the country but most of which had to do with practicing the Muslim faith. For instance, daily prayer was one of the more serious items on the list. After selecting the crime they wished to “confess” there was a sham trial held. The exactly procedure seemed to differ depending on the camp, but none of the detainees had legal representatives or witnesses. They were convicted and a sentence was issued:
A few days after they were forced to pick a crime and sign the list, one detainee told DW, officials started calling people out one by one.
She was, she said, so terrified that she fainted and was taken back to her room. She was sentenced in absentia. “I was given 2 years for traveling abroad. I started feeling very sad, but still, compared to other people, my sentence was the lightest. Some people were given six years, 10 years even.” The longer sentences, she says, were meted out for religious acts, such as praying regularly.
The detainees who received the lengthy prison terms, she says “started sobbing and crying. I felt really sorry for them.”
The inmates who received longer sentences would disappear shortly after their trials, often marched away at night. DW reports there appears to be an effort by China to clear out some of the camps by forcing people to confess and then sending them to prisons instead. That way all of the people being held aren’t just involuntary detainees but convicts.
One of the four detainees DW spoke with described something even worse. On a nightly basis she was asked to round up other female detainees and take them to the showers. She said she was too scared to ask the women what was happening but she believed it was obvious they were being raped by the guards.
An estimated 1 million Uighurs have been forced into the camps since 2016. This is just one more facet of China’s crackdown on human rights under Xi Jinping. Here’s the video report from DW.