Xinjiang a ‘dystopian hellscape’ where torture is common: Report

Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang face systematic state-organised mass imprisonment, torture and persecution amounting to crimes against humanity: Amnesty International
Members of Uighur community living in Turkey stage a protest outside the Chinese consulate in Istanbul. (AP)
Members of Uighur community living in Turkey stage a protest outside the Chinese consulate in Istanbul. (AP)
Updated on Jun 11, 2021 08:24 PM IST
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BySutirtho Patranobis I Edited by Amit Chanda

China is committing human rights abuses on Muslim minorities in the province of Xinjiang, a “dystopian hellscape” where brainwashing and torture in camps are commonplace, human rights group, Amnesty International has said in a new report.

In a report published on Thursday, the group said hundreds of thousands of Muslim minority men and women were being subjected to mass internment and torture, systemic mass surveillance and being forced to abandon their religious traditions, cultural practices and local languages.

The Chinese foreign ministry dismissed the report on Friday, calling it a “record of lies”. “People are clear about the nature of Amnesty International. This organisation, wearing tinted glasses, has been misleading the public and spreading lies and rumours about Xinjiang. Its so-called report is like adding one more page to its ‘record of lies’,” spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.

“We urge the relevant organisation to abandon its persistent prejudice against China, stop fabricating and spreading disinformation and look at relevant issues from an objective and just perspective,” Wang added.

The 160-page report by London-based AI - titled “Like We Were Enemies in a War: China’s Mass Internment, Torture, and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang” - is, however, scathing, alleging more than just persistent state-sponsored prejudice against Muslim minorities in China’s largest province.

“Uighurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) face systematic state-organised mass imprisonment, torture and persecution amounting to crimes against humanity,” the report said, quoting dozens of new testimonies from former camp detainees.

Sleep deprivation, beatings, and the use of “tiger chairs” - iron chairs with iron buckles to restrain those being questioned - were recorded, the report said, adding that detainees could be hooded and shackled during questioning.

“The Chinese authorities have created a ‘dystopian hellscape’ on a staggering scale in XUAR,” Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said at the release of the report.

“It should shock the conscience of humanity that massive number 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,” Callamard added.

The Chinese government does not deny the existence of camps in XUAR - it first acknowledged the camps in October, 2018 - but says they are part of anti-terrorism and de-radicalisation efforts in the region in accordance with the law to protect people’s lives.

In February, state councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi told the UN Human Rights Council that it was taking counter-terrorism measures in accordance with the law and that Xinjiang enjoyed “social stability and sound development” after four years without any “terrorist case”.

People of all ethnic groups enjoy labour rights and Muslims were free to pray in the 24,000 mosques in Xinjiang, he said. “These basic facts show that there has never been so-called genocide, forced labour, or religious oppression in Xinjiang.”

Amnesty International, however, said counter-terrorism could not reasonably account for mass detention, and that the Chinese government’s actions showed a “clear intent to target parts of Xinjiang’s population collectively on the basis of religion and ethnicity and to use severe violence and intimidation to root out Islamic religious beliefs and Turkic Muslim ethno-cultural practices”.

The report also said Muslims were not free to practice their religion in Xinjiang. Dozens of Muslim men and women told the organisation that the regional “Chinese authorities showed extraordinary hostility towards their Islamic faith. Basic religious and cultural practices have been deemed ‘extremist’ and used as grounds for detention”.

As a result, most people have stopped praying or showing any outward signs of observing Islam. “We couldn’t say ‘as-salamu-alaykum’ [a typical greeting in many Islamic cultures meaning ‘peace be upon you’] …anymore,” one man told Amnesty International. “Qurans, prayer mats and other religious artefacts have effectively been banned.”

The new report is likely to add to the international pressure on China over its policies for minorities in Xinjiang, described by the US, UK and Canada and Lithuania as genocide.

The government has also been accused of carrying out forced sterilisation of Uighur women, a charge that has also been denied by the authorities.

In March, the EU, US, UK, and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over the alleged abuses; Beijing responded with tit-for-tat sanctions on lawmakers, researchers, and institutions.

In the report, Amnesty said the Chinese government “…must immediately close all the remaining internment camps and release all persons held in internment camps or other detention facilities - including prisons - in Xinjiang, unless there is sufficient credible and admissible evidence that they have committed an internationally recognised offence”.

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