Uighur crisis

Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape, torture and abuse

Photo by Kemalbas on Istockphoto.

— 3 minute read– By Camilla Foster

In the last few years, China has consistently denied locking up Muslims without trial and reiterate that the camps in Xinjiang are for ‘voluntary vocational training’ with the sole purpose to battle extremism. However, accumulating evidence has uncovered a more sinister reality. Satellite imagery of huge compounds in Xenjing shows an array of extensions, watchtowers and a comprehensive surveillance system that more closely resembles a prison. This is where Muslims have been illegally detained and forced into a life of labour, abuse and ‘re-education’.

Xinjiang is a supposedly autonomous region in the far west of China that, in theory, encompasses a degree of self-governance away from the microscope and scrutiny of Beijing. The Uighur community of Turkish Muslims make up over half of the region’s population. They speak the Turkic language and are culturally closer to the neighbouring Baghdad than Beijing. This religious group attains a history of rebellion and resistance to Chinese rule due to differing ideological standpoints, and since the start of communist rule in China there has been increasing tension that has, on occasion, led to violence. Xi Jinping’s presidency has led to a tightening grip on society, especially on those who don’t belong to the Communist Party. This has led to the prohibition of practicing Islam, attending mosques, or fasting during Ramadan, thus severely repressing the religious freedoms of the Uighur people. Within this context of contrasting ideologies, the Muslim community have been subjected to intense surveillance and have been forcibly made to give DNA and biometric samples to government officials. Human Rights Watch has reported that the Chinese government has gradually stripped all religious and basic freedoms away from the Uighur community.

China’s vast and secretive systems of internment camps have been a subject of controversy for the last few years, with increasing evidence from victims coming forwards and informing journalists what really occurs behind closed doors; an oppressive system of unlawful detention, indoctrination and in some cases, forced sterilisation. In 2018, satellite images clearly portrayed the growth of these compounds despite Chinese government officials saying they were scaling back. State-run TV projects an image of clean, comfortable facilities where Uighurs voluntarily attend until they ‘graduate’ their vocational programmes, seemingly grateful for this chance of education. But ‘graduates’ from these programmes have come forward and expressed the abysmal abuse. Former female detainees have reported within this system of mass confinement, they experienced coerced labour, mass rape, sexual abuse and torture. 

The sensitive and horrific nature of these allegations has sparked a global reaction. A number of Western governments have publicly denounced China’s policies in Xinjiang. Both Britain and the US have been constantly pressing China to allow a more thorough and accurate investigation of these facilities by United Nations rights inspectors. The European Parliament condemned China for forced labour in December. Beijing ministers have fiercely warned foreign governments to not intervene in its internal affairs, stating illustrations of concentration camp-like behaviour and abuse are false. 

The amounting evidence of abuse, and activism by human rights groups are gradually lifting the educational façade off of this system of oppressive mass confinement. The physical and psychological abuse that is being allowed to happen in Xinjiang seems historical and hopefully, with the right intervention by foreign governments, will not be allowed to continue.