Amnesty: China is committing crimes against humanity

ighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region face systematic and state-organised “mass internment and torture amounting to crimes against humanity”, Amnesty International said, citing dozens of eyewitness accounts from former detainees, as the group stepped up calls for the camps to be closed.

prison camp
Hands of a Muslim woman holding bars in jail

In a report published on Thursday, Amnesty said the minority groups had been forced to abandon their religious traditions, language and culture, and subjected to mass surveillance, supporting previous allegations of genocide and ethnic cleansing committed within a network of hundreds of detention centres.

More than 50 former camp detainees shared new testimony with Amnesty, providing a detailed inside account of the conditions and treatment of Uighurs and other groups in the internment camps sanctioned by Chinese authorities since 2017, Amnesty said.

“The Chinese authorities have created a dystopian hellscape on a staggering scale in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general and a former UN investigator on human rights.

“Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities face crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations that threaten to erase their religious and cultural identities.

“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.”

Torture and other ill-treatment are systematic in the camps and every aspect of daily life is regimented in an effort to forcibly instil secular, homogeneous Chinese nation and Communist party ideals, the 160-page report said.

In recent days, China has also been accused of rolling out birth-control policies targeting the same minority groups, aiming to cut between 2.6 to 4.5 million births within 20 years.

Aside from the Uighurs and Kazakhs, the Hui, Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Tajik minorities in Xinjiang have also been swept up in the campaign.

China has previously rejected the genocide and ethnic cleansing charges, saying the internment camps are vocational training centres aimed at countering the threat of “extremism”.

On Wednesday, Beijing also presented family members and former neighbours to refute the testimonies of witnesses who have appeared at a UK special tribunal investigating allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. However, a human rights advocate warned that Beijing’s witnesses may have been speaking “under duress”.

Since early 2017, huge numbers of Uighur men and women as well as other Muslim ethnic minorities have been arbitrarily detained or imprisoned, the report said.

They include hundreds of thousands who have been sent to prisons in addition to the one million the UN estimates to have been sent to the internment camps. Al Jazeera has published similar witness accounts detailing the experience of Uighurs inside the detention centres.

All of the more than 50 former detainees told Amnesty they were detained for what appeared to be entirely lawful conduct, such as possessing a religiously themed picture or communicating with someone abroad

The witnesses said that many of them underwent intense interrogation at police stations, and the process included beatings and sleep deprivation.

They were also made to sit up to 24 hours in so-called “tiger chairs”, with affixed leg irons and handcuffs that restrain the body in painful positions.