If you’ve paid any attention to this story over the past year then you already know what China is doing in Xinjiang. Still it’s good see reminders get a little attention in the media. The BBC describes a new report from Amnesty International about the conditions inside and outside the camps:
In a report published on Thursday, Amnesty called on the UN to investigate, and said China had subjected Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslims to mass detention, surveillance, and torture.
Agnès Callamard, the secretary general of Amnesty International, accused Chinese authorities of creating “a dystopian hellscape on a staggering scale”.
“It should shock the conscience of humanity that massive numbers of people have been subjected to brainwashing, torture and other degrading treatment in internment camps, while millions more live in fear amid a vast surveillance apparatus,” Ms Callamard said.
The full report is 160 pages long. I haven’t read the entire thing but here are a few excerpts. First, from the executive summary, comes the conclusion that the CCP is guilty of crimes against humanity:
According to the evidence Amnesty International has gathered, corroborated by other reliable sources, members of predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have been subjected to an attack meeting all the contextual elements of crimes against humanity under international law. The evidence Amnesty has seen therefore provides a factual basis for the conclusion that the perpetrators, acting on behalf of the Chinese state, have carried out a widespread and systematic attack consisting of a planned, massive, organized, and systematic pattern of serious violations directed at the civilian population in Xinjiang. Amnesty International believes the evidence it has collected provides a factual basis for the conclusion that the Chinese government has committed at least the following crimes against humanity: imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; torture; and persecution.
Further into the report we get some details. This section talks about the ways in which Islam has been effectively made illegal to the point that the government was re-naming babies:
Weddings are now held according to the instructions of government. In our tradition, the imam reads verses [from the Qur’an] and gives names to newborn babies, but now it is [a government official] who give names and there is no reciting the Qur’an… And there are forbidden names [to give to your children], the Islamic names… They also started to change the names of people who already had Islamic names, like ‘Mohammed’.
In addition to preventing all outward signs of religion, China also enforced a drastic kind of surveillance, forcing families to accept government minders to live with them in their homes several nights a week for the purposes of reporting on their behavior:
Since 2014, the government has assigned cadres to live in the homes of ethnic minority residents and monitor their activities. The programme was expanded in 2017 and has reportedly included more than 1 million cadres who spend a few days a month living in ethnic minority households. Referred to as “relatives”, the predominantly Han Chinese cadres are tasked with monitoring and reporting any suspicious behaviour – such as religious practice or political views – and with carrying out political indoctrination…
Batima told Amnesty International that when her father was sent to a camp, she and her mother were forced to move back to their home village and have a government minder stay with them. She described what the minder did while staying with the family:
She ate with us. Listened to what we were saying. Told us about politics. About our ‘crimes’. For example, [she said:] ‘Do not go abroad. Do not contact the outside world. Be thankful for the government. Confess that your father committed crimes.’… She stayed overnight… She stayed in the same room as me… She took photos of us. And she told us to attend classes.
Of course things were much worse for those taken to the camps. They were taken away from their lives, interrogated by police and then brought to camps, usually without any explanation as to why they were being taken there. The conditions were worse than prison.
At 6am they let us go out one by one to wash and use the toilet… There was a bucket in the cell… Even in the morning there was no guarantee we’ll be let out [to use the toilet]. Sometimes we went 24 hours without being allowed to use the toilet… The bucket was for [urinating]; if you had to [defecate] then you had to use the intercom and they would send two guards… and then you went out under the chain. Here you had to squat and put hands on head [when you exited the cell]… the process was like in a prison.
Even sleeping sounds like a nightmare:
The lights [in the cell] were always on. At 10pm we had to lie in bed. Two cellmates were on night watch. From 10 to 12, 12 to 2, 2 to 4, and 4 to 6… these two people are [always] walking between the window and the door. Their job was watching us. At night we had to sleep with head facing the camera and face uncovered. And, if not, they woke us and put us in the right position.
China continues to claim these prisons are just vocational schools. It’s true there was some education going on but it was not vocational, it was political indoctrination:
[T]here were ‘law’ classes, but it was not really law, it was ideology… It was about how a country should have one language… about how China was great and excellent, and how Kazakhstan was bad… And [they would show us a big] bridge that China built… and talk about fighting terrorism, and how those in the [re-education] camps were terrorists themselves… They were brainwashing us to say that without the Chinese Communist Party there was no China, no prosperity, and that Xi Jinping was great… They made us sing ‘Xi Jinping is the father of China, father of the world’….
They told us not to bite the hand that feeds you, and don’t spit in the water you are drinking. We would ask what our crime was. They would say, ‘The fact that you are talking back right now is a crime in itself,’ that you shouldn’t speak. We would sit there quietly.
Three or four people came during the day and lectured us. They would make us memorize [political] slogans, law, and tell us that the Communist Party was good. We had to sit and listen and memorize… In the second camp they would show us photos of Uyghurs who left for Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan, and say that ‘This guy is in prison for so many years, this guy for so many years.’ They said that if you go [abroad] we will catch you and detain you… This is how they would make the day go.
And for some prisoners in the camps there was torture, usually forcing people to sit in what is known as a tiger chair, i.e. a metal chair to which your arms and legs are chained, sometimes for days at a time.
He was a [ethnicity redacted]. I can’t remember his name. There are many things I can’t remember [since I left the camp]… [The man] was in our room for more than two months, then he was taken to the doctor – I think he was taken for high blood pressure and because he fainted… As soon as he came back [to our cell] he was made to sit in a tiger chair. [I think the man was being punished for pushing a guard.]… They brought the chair into our room… Yes, we were watching. They told us that if we helped him then we would sit in the chair… It was an iron chair… his arms were cuffed and chained. Legs were chained as well. His body was tied to the back of the chair… Two [cuffs] were locked around his wrists and legs… A rubber thing attached to the ribs to make the person [sit] up straight… at some point we could see his testicles. He would [urinate and defecate] in the chair. He was in the chair for three nights… He died after he [was taken out of the cell]. We found out through [people] in the cell… He didn’t die in front of us. After 72 hours, he was [urinating and defecating]. We told the guards. They said to clean him. His bottom was wounded. His eyes look unconscious… Then [the guards] took him [out of the cell].
There’s much more in the full report but you get the idea. People outside the camps are treated like prisoners and people inside the camps are treated as less than human. This has been going on for years already and China continues to deny it is even happening. How long can the rest of the world allow this dystopian hellscape to go on while carrying on business as usual with China?