Words by Miranda Dunne
A BBC report released on Wednesday details systematic rape, abuse and torture alleged by women of Uighur muslim community in China.
In a set of accounts released on Wednesday, BBC journalists spoke to Tursunay Ziawudun, who was detained for nine months inside China’s network of prison camps in the Xinjiang region. It is thought, according to ‘independent estimates’ that over a million men and women mainly of the Muslim Uighur community are being detained indefinitely. The report led to condemnation by the UK and US governments. On Thursday, UK government minister Nigel Adams stated in parliament that the report demonstrated ‘clearly evil acts’ in response to an urgent question called by MP Nus Ghani. A US state department spokesman on Thursday said the report ‘must be met with serious consequences.’
Chinese spokesperson of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin denied human rights abuses and accused the BBC of writing a ‘false report’, saying there was “no systematic sexual assault and abuse against women.”
Ziawudun, now living in the US, spoke of the men who would remove women from their cells ‘every night’ after midnight to ‘select’ women whom they would take to a “black room” with no surveillance cameras and subject them to sexual abuse and torture. Ziawudun said she was tortured and then gang-raped on three occasions by multiple masked Chinese men. The women, she says, would be threatened against telling their cellmates what had been done to them.
She told the BBC, ‘You can’t tell anyone what happened, you can only lie down quietly… It is designed to destroy everyone’s spirit.’
Ziawudun initially fled to Kazakhstan and then onto the US, where she is living now.
The BBC says it is ‘impossible’ to completely verify her account due to the ‘severe restrictions China places on reporters’, however the immigration records and travel documents authenticate her timeline of events.
The report also mentioned its interview with Gulzira Auelkhan, a Kazakh woman from Xinjiang who was imprisoned for 18 months who alleges she was ‘forced to strip Uighur women naked and handcuff them, before leaving them alone with Chinese men’ who ‘would pay money to have their pick of the prettiest young inmates.’
Over the past year, there have been various reports of forced sterilisation on Uighur women. In June 2020 a report by Adrian Zenz, a China scholar and expert on its policies in Xinjiang, said that Uighur women and other ethnic minorities were being threatened with confinement for refusing the abortion of pregnancies that would surpass birth quotas. Speaking of the report release by the BBC on Wednesday, he said, ‘it provides authoritative and detailed evidence of sexual abuse and torture at a level clearly greater than what we had assumed.’
In 2019, the BBC spoke to ‘Sayragul’, ‘the first insider to speak out’ who alleged she was forced to teach in one of the camps. The ultimate goal of the Chinese government, she said, is ‘to make ethnic minorities Chinese.’
In 2019, Chinese government documents leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) found the network of high-security prison camps to be ‘brainwashing’ hundreds of thousands of Muslims. One such document was described by Nury Turkel of the Uyghur Human Rights Project as a ‘Nazi Playbook.’
Instructions included to: ‘promote repentance and confession’, ‘make remedial Mandarin studies the top priority’, increase discipline and punishment of behavioural violations’ and ‘never allow escapes’, contradicting repeated claims by Chinese government officials that the camps are voluntary training and education centres.
‘Copies of this document should be on the desk of policy makers and legislators around the world,’ said Turkel.
In September 2020, 321 organisations, including Human Rights Watch, signed an open letter condemning ‘China’s Human Rights Abuses’
In September 2020, an open letter was signed by 321 organisations across 60 countries urging the UN to ‘address China’s Human Rights Abuses against the Turkic Muslim minority. Joshua Rosenzweig of Amnesty International said at the time ‘without decisive action now, things will only get worse.’
In September last year, 100 new detention camps were revealed by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, an increase of 40% from prior estimates. It alleged at the time that there were 380 suspected camps in the Xinjiang region.
There are over 12 millions Uyghurs, 11 million of whom are in the Xinjiang region. The majority are of Muslim Turkic ethnicity and have their own language. In the early 20th century, they declared independence, but shortly after the region was taken under control by communist China. Xinjiang is designated as an autonomous region within China, but activists say that policies of central government have retrenched the rights of Uyghurs, religiously and culturally. The Save Uighur campaign claims a -58% change in the Muslim population since 1955 and further lists forced communist ‘guests’ living in Uighur homes as ‘government informants’ and inter-household spying, with Uighur householders ‘divided into groups of 10 to spy on one another.
Picture Credit: OlinEJ