Watchdog Says Repression In Xinjiang Amounts To Crimes Against Humanity

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Amnesty International says Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in China's northwestern Xinjiang region face "systematic state-organized mass imprisonment, torture, and persecution" amounting to crimes against humanity.

In a new report published on June 10, the London-based human rights watchdog details "the extreme measures taken by Chinese authorities since 2017 to essentially root out the religious traditions, cultural practices and local languages" of the region’s Uyghur, Kazakh, Hui, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Tajik people in an effort to "forcibly instill a secular, homogeneous Chinese nation and Communist Party ideals."

"Under the guise of fighting 'terrorism'," the Chinese authorities have subjected hundreds of thousands of Muslim minority men and women to "mass internment and torture" and millions of others to "systematized mass surveillance" to create what Amnesty International's Secretary-General Agnes Callamard called "a dystopian hellscape on a staggering scale" in Xinjiang.

Beijing is facing growing international criticism over its policies in Xinjiang, with the United States using the word genocide to describe the treatment of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim indigenous people.

The UN has estimated that at least 1 million members of these ethnic groups have been detained in what it described as "counterextremism centers" in the region. The UN has also said that millions more have been forced into internment camps, though Beijing insists that the facilities are "vocational education centers" aimed at helping people steer clear of terrorism and allowing them to be reintegrated into society.

Rights defenders also accuse China of forcing hundreds of thousands of people into labor camps under a "coercive" scheme targeting ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang -- a claim rejected by Beijing.

Mass Detention In "Prison-Like" Camps

In its report, titled Like We Were Enemies In A War: China’s Mass Internment, Torture, And Persecution Of Muslims In Xinjiang, Amnesty International released testimonies from more than 50 people who had been detained in Xinjiang's "vast network of hundreds of grim 'transformation-through-education' centers -- actually, internment camps."

Amnesty International said all the ex-internees were detained for what appears to be lawful conduct, such as "possessing a religious-themed picture or communicating with someone abroad."

Most of them were first questioned at police stations, where they were "often interrogated in 'tiger chairs' – steel chairs with affixed leg irons and handcuffs that restrain the body in painful positions."

"Beatings, sleep deprivation and overcrowding are rampant in the police stations, and detainees reported being hooded and shackled during their interrogation and transfer" to a "prison-like" internment camp. There, detainees lives were "extraordinarily regimented," with every activity in their daily routine being "pre-ordained" and their behavior "constantly monitored and evaluated."

Internees had "no privacy or autonomy, and they faced severe punishments when they responded to prison guards or other officials in their native tongues instead of Mandarin."

They generally were "indoctrinated to disavow Islam, forgo using their language and other cultural practices, and study Mandarin Chinese language and Chinese Communist Party propaganda."

Detainees "practically never leave their cells and rarely see sunlight or have outdoor access or exercise."

Systematic Torture And Other Ill-Treatment

Amnesty International said all the former detainees it interviewed said they faced torture or other ill-treatment in the camps.

This included "the cumulative psychological effect of their daily dehumanization, as well as physical torture in the form of beatings, electric shocks, solitary confinement, deprivation of food, water and sleep, exposure to extreme cold, and the abusive use of restraints."

After being released from a camp, the former internees have been under "near-constant electronic and in-person surveillance" for at least several months, and their freedom of movement has been "heavily restricted."

Religious And Cultural Persecution

Muslims are not free to practice their religion in Xinjiang, where basic religious and cultural practices are deemed "extremist," according to Amnesty International.

As a result, most people have stopped praying or showing any outward signs of observing Islam, while mosques, shrines, gravesites, and other religious and cultural sites have been demolished or repurposed throughout Xinjiang.

China has worked hard to cover up its violations of human rights in Xinjiang, with the authorities threatening, detaining, and mistreating "anyone who speaks out."

The fate of hundreds of thousands of detainees remains unknown.

Many may remain in detention in the camps, while others have been given long prison sentences or have been "transferred to situations of forced or coerced labor," Amnesty said.

Source: Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.