'Their goal is to destroy everyone': Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape
Category: News & PoliticsVia: s • 3 weeks ago • 6 comments
The men always wore masks, Tursunay Ziawudun said, even though there was no pandemic then.
They wore suits, she said, not police uniforms.
Sometime after midnight, they came to the cells to select the women they wanted and took them down the corridor to a "black room", where there were no surveillance cameras.
Several nights, Ziawudun said, they took her.
Tursunay Ziawudun spent nine months inside China's vast and secretive system of internment camps in the Xinjiang region. According to independent estimates, more than a million men and women have been detained in the sprawling network of camps, which China says exist for the "re-education" of the Uighurs and other minorities. Human rights groups say the Chinese government has gradually stripped away the religious and other freedoms of the Uighurs, culminating in an oppressive system of mass surveillance, detention, indoctrination, and even forced sterilisation .
The policy flows from China's President, Xi Jinping, who visited Xinjiang in 2014 in the wake of a terror attack by Uighur separatists. Shortly after, according to documents leaked to the New York Times, he directed local officials to respond with "absolutely no mercy". The US government said last month that China's actions since amounted to a genocide. China says reports of mass detention and forced sterilisation are "lies and absurd allegations". First-hand accounts from inside the internment camps are rare, but several former detainees and a guard have told the BBC they experienced or saw evidence of an organised system of mass rape, sexual abuse and torture.
It is impossible to verify Ziawudun's account completely because of the severe restrictions China places on reporters in the country, but travel documents and immigration records she provided to the BBC corroborate the timeline of her story. Her descriptions of the camp in Xinyuan county - known in Uighur as Kunes county - match satellite imagery analysed by the BBC, and her descriptions of daily life inside the camp, as well as the nature and methods of the abuse, correspond with other accounts from former detainees.
Internal documents from the Kunes county justice system from 2017 and 2018, provided to the BBC by Adrian Zenz, a leading expert on China's policies in Xinjiang, detail planning and spending for "transformation through education" of "key groups" - a common euphemism in China for the indoctrination of the Uighurs. In one Kunes document, the "education" process is described as "washing brains, cleansing hearts, strengthening righteousness and eliminating evil". The BBC also interviewed a Kazakh woman from Xinjiang who was detained for 18 months in the camp system, who said she was forced to strip Uighur women naked and handcuff them, before leaving them alone with Chinese men. Afterwards, she cleaned the rooms, she said.
"My job was to remove their clothes above the waist and handcuff them so they cannot move," said Gulzira Auelkhan, crossing her wrists behind her head to demonstrate. "Then I would leave the women in the room and a man would enter - some Chinese man from outside or policeman. I sat silently next to the door, and when the man left the room I took the woman for a shower."
The Chinese men "would pay money to have their pick of the prettiest young inmates", she said. Some former detainees of the camps have described being forced to assist guards or face punishment. Auelkhan said she was powerless to resist or intervene. Asked if there was a system of organised rape, she said: "Yes, rape." "They forced me to go into that room," she said. "They forced me to take off those women's clothes and to restrain their hands and leave the room."
Some of the women who were taken away from the cells at night were never returned, Ziawudun said. Those who were brought back were threatened against telling others in the cell what had happened to them. "You can't tell anyone what happened, you can only lie down quietly," she said. "It is designed to destroy everyone's spirit." Mr Zenz told the BBC that the testimony gathered for this story was "some of the most horrendous evidence I have seen since the atrocity began".
"This confirms the very worst of what we have heard before," he said. "It provides authoritative and detailed evidence of sexual abuse and torture at a level clearly greater than what we had assumed.".. In separate testimony to the Uyghur Human Rights Project, Sedik said she heard about an electrified stick being inserted into women to torture them - echoing the experience Ziawudun described. There were "four kinds of electric shock", Sedik said - "the chair, the glove, the helmet, and anal rape with a stick".
"The screams echoed throughout the building," she said. "I could hear them during lunch and sometimes when I was in class." Another teacher forced to work in the camps, Sayragul Sauytbay, told the BBC that "rape was common" and the guards "picked the girls and young women they wanted and took them away". She described witnessing a harrowing public gang rape of a woman of just 20 or 21, who was brought before about 100 other detainees to make a forced confession. "After that, in front of everyone, the police took turns to rape her," Sauytbay said.
"While carrying out this test, they watched people closely and picked out anyone who resisted, clenched their fists, closed their eyes, or looked away, and took them for punishment." The young woman cried out for help, Sauytbay said. "It was absolutely horrendous," she said. "I felt I had died. I was dead."
In the camp in Kunes, Ziawudun's days drifted into weeks and then months. The detainees' hair was cut, they went to class, they underwent unexplained medical tests, took pills, and were forcibly injected every 15 days with a "vaccine" that brought on nausea and numbness. Women were forcibly fitted with IUDs or sterilised, Ziawudun said, including a woman who was just about 20 years old. ("We begged them on her behalf," she said.) Forced sterilisation of Uighurs has been widespread in Xinjiang, according to a recent investigation by the Associated Press . The Chinese government told the BBC the allegations were "completely unfounded". As well as the medical interventions, detainees in Ziawudun's camp spent hours singing patriotic Chinese songs and watching patriotic TV programmes about Chinese President Xi Jinping, she said.
"You forget to think about life outside the camp. I don't know if they brainwashed us or if it was the side effect of the injections and pills, but you can't think of anything beyond wishing you had a full stomach. The food deprivation is so severe." Detainees had food withheld for infractions such as failing to accurately memorise passages from books about Xi Jinping, according to a former camp guard who spoke to the BBC via video link from a country outside China. "Once we were taking the people arrested into the concentration camp, and I saw everyone being forced to memorise those books. They sit for hours trying to memorise the text, everyone had a book in their hands," he said. Those who failed tests were forced to wear three different colours of clothing based on whether they had failed one, two, or three times, he said, and subjected to different levels of punishment accordingly, including food deprivation and beatings.
"I entered those camps. I took detainees into those camps," he said. "I saw those sick, miserable people. They definitely experienced various types of torture. I am sure about that."