‘China Must Give the UN immediate and Unfettered Access to Uyghur Camps’
CJ Werleman reports on new accounts of how the Muslim minority is being persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang and why the international community needs a wake-up call
China’s ongoing efforts to clear Xinjiang of its indigenous Uyghur population and flood the territory with millions of Han Chinese migrants meets the definition of genocide, as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
In some of the region’s counties, as much as 80% of the Uyghur population has vanished since 2016, having either been detained in a vast network of concentration camps or forcibly disappeared altogether, according to accounts published recently in Byline Times.
Human rights activists, non-governmental organisations, policy think tanks, and journalists have helped identify as many as 500 potential concentration camp and detention centre sites in Xinjiang using a combination of satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts. A recent Buzzfeed News investigation identified 315 sites that are currently being used as part of China’s mass detention programme.
One of these detention facilities is known locally as “Xinjiang Fifth Prison”, located in Urumqi, or by the map coordinates 43°56’28.0″N 87°34’45.0″E.
The half-size of a large city block, with a half-dozen single storey, wing-shaped housing complexes and a handful of administrative buildings, Xinjiang’s Fifth Prison was transformed into a Uyghur concentration camp on 17 June 2017, according to written testimony Byline Times has received second-hand from a current Xinjiang Government official.
The testimony has been described as “authentic” and “trustworthy” by several Uyghur activists, including Dr Erkin Sidick – a Uyghur American who is the President of the Uyghur Projects Foundation and senior advisor to the World Uyghur Congress – and recounts the arrival of the first Uyghur detainees to the prison as follows:
“It was the day of June 17, 2017, at 2:00am local time. Suddenly, a fleet of 25 tourist buses crept into Urumqi prison, also known as Xinjiang Fifth Prison. All of the coaches’ license plates had been removed, all of the head lights turned off. A reception team was waiting for them, which included 150 SWAT soldiers [carrying] machine guns, 200 police officers, 300 trained felons, and an armoured vehicle equipped with antiaircraft machine gun.
“Those felons [security forces] were ready to torture the new arrivals. The vehicle doors opened one by one from the coaches. 1,500 Uyghur people exited, whom had been poached [kidnapped] from their villages near Kashgar about 10 days before. Around 2000 PLA [People’s Liberation Army] soldiers surrounded their villages near Kashgar at midnight, and all people were poached.
“Those PLA soldiers didn’t have any search warrant. They broke into villager’s houses, loaded all their computers, cellular phones, books, all paper works. All personal home belongings had been confiscated without receipt and proper lawful procedures. Family members were separated and sent to different schools for temporary detention. Two days before, they were loaded to camouflaged coaches for 28 hours non- stop driving. At least three elderly people already dead. They were covered with black masks, worn with handcuffs and shackles. Every two of the captives were chained together. About 30% of the prisoners are male over 60 years. Thirty of them are over 90 years of age. Many prisoners are handicapped, some blind, some deaf, some only one leg, even no leg. No lawyer allowed. No appeal allowed at all. They were sentenced for five to 10 years in prison.
“But the prisoners sentenced to more than 10 years were sent to other secret locations. They were charged with mainly two indictment: 1. The crime of creating disturbances i.e. they had too many kids. 2. Disturbing the public peace i.e. growing long beard and/or long hair.
“All personal belongings had been confiscated and destroyed. All personal computer, cellular phone, money, clothes, shoes, whatever had been completely destroyed. The captives looked like newborn baby. They give no receipt for their belongings to be returned later. Everything is [considered] contraband. No single piece of paper they are allowed to keep. Everyone had all hair shaved from head-to-toe. For the next two years, those prisoners had no chance to see the sun and no recreation.
“For the first three days, water was cut off, they were not allowed to drink, and the temperature was over 37 [degrees celsius] at that time. More than 17 people died. Every midnight, the ambulance carrying corpses and transferred away.
“Each cell is designed to hold 12 detainees, but each crammed in 40 or more. The prisoners don’t have room to sleep, even they were not allowed to sleep. The police officers ordered half the prisoners to stay awake on duty, which means they have to watch each other in case of suicide.
“Between June and September 2017, more than 300 captives had been tortured to death.”
‘Immediate and Unfettered Access’
This harrowing account fits with the nearly three dozen survivor testimonies published by Buzzfeed News last week.
“The stories about what detention is like in Xinjiang are remarkably consistent — from the point of arrest, where people are swept away in police cars, to the days, weeks, and months of abuse, deprivation, and routine humiliation inside the camps, to the moment of release for the very few who get out,” its investigation noted.
Former detainees talk about being “flanked by armed police” upon arrival at their respective camps, before being separated from their belongings, stripped naked, shaved from head-to-toe, and dressed in prison garb.
If China truly had nothing to hide there should be no reason for them to not allow the UN immediate and unfettered access.Yasmin Qureshi MP
“We lined up and took off our clothes to put on blue uniforms,” 48-year-old Parida, a Kazakh pharmacist who was detained in February 2018, told Buzzfeed News. “There were men and women together in the same room. They treated us like livestock. I wanted to cry. I was ashamed, you know, to take off my clothes in front of others.”
Weeks prior to these revelations being published, Dr Sidick explained how a Beijing Government official had told him that the Chinese Communist Party had moved towards what could be likened to a “Final Solution” policy with regards to the Uyghur minority – claiming that one-third of the total Uyghur population would be killed, a another one-third would be incarcerated, and a final third would be indoctrinated with Communist Party ideology.
Although it is not possible to prove the veracity of Sidick’s claims, the Chinese President Xi Jinping told the party in a speech to use the “organs of dictatorship” against the Uyghur minority and “show them no mercy”. Sidick’s claims also seem to fit with the testimonies of former detainees, who told BuzzFeed News that “prisoners were divided into three categories, differentiated by uniform colours”.
The full extent of the horrors inflicted upon Uyghur detainees remains largely unknown, however, due the secretive nature of the Chinese Communist Party and its total control over media and telecommunications, including the internet, and the fact that it has banned independent foreign visitors from visiting the region, while also threatening harm to Uyghurs who attempt to contact family members who are overseas.
But what is clear is that China can no longer hide behind its denials and attempts to downplay its actions as something less sinister. At a time when it is attempting to rebuild global trust following the COVID-19 outbreak, China must allow independent and unrestricted inspections of both Xinjiang and its concentration camps, which could be conducted by the United Nations, International Red Cross, or any other major international body.
Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP for Bolton and chair of the UK Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Uyghurs, told Byline Times that her recent request to travel to Xinjiang, along with her colleagues, was denied by the Chinese Government.
“If China truly had nothing to hide there should be no reason for them to not allow the UN immediate and unfettered access,” she said. “Its continued resistance and refusal to cooperate, serves only to confirm our deepest fears for the Uighurs of Xinjiang. The evidence is clear. China has established the largest-scale detention of ethnic and religious minorities since the Second World War.”
It is time for China to come clean and for the international community to fulfil the solemn promise it made in the aftermath of the previous century’s worst genocide – never again.