Rapes, torture, sterilization: First-hand accounts from China's Uighur camps emerge

Siddhant Pandey
·4-min read

Rapes, torture, sterilization: First-hand accounts from China
Rapes, torture, sterilization: First-hand accounts from China

03 Feb 2021: Rapes, torture, sterilization: First-hand accounts from China's Uighur camps emerge

In China's "re-education" camps for Uighurs—mostly Muslim Turkic minority group—women detainees are made to face systematic rapes, torture, forced sterilizations, among other horrors, first-hand accounts obtained by the BBC reveal.

Last month, the United States government had said that China's actions amounted to the genocide of Uighurs, over a million of whom are detained across a network of such camps.

Here are more details.

Report: Women taken from cells, raped by masked men: Former detainee

The chilling BBC report details the accounts of former detainees, camp guards, and teachers.

Tursunay Ziawudun (42) had spent nine months at a "re-education" camp in Xinjiang.

Ziawudun told BBC that women were taken from their cells "every night" and raped by masked Chinese men.

She was tortured and later gang-raped on three occasions, each time by two or three men, she said.

Quote: 'They bit everywhere leaving horrible marks'

Sometime in May 2018, Ziawudun said she was presented to a masked Chinese man, "They had an electric stick, I didn't know what it was, and it was pushed inside my genital tract, torturing me with an electric shock."

Detailing another instance, she said, "They didn't spare any part of the body, they bit everywhere leaving horrible marks. It was disgusting to look at."

Backstory: Ziawudun was first detained after returning to China in 2016

Ziawudun and her Kazakh husband had returned to Xinjiang in late-2016 from Kazakhstan. They were interrogated and had their passports confiscated.

She was detained, and her husband returned to Kazakhstan after getting his passport.

Ziawudun was later told she needed "more education" and detained again. She said her earrings were yanked out on arrival at the camp as all jewelry was to be confiscated.

Backstory: 'Detainees made to sing patriotic songs, watch patriotic programs'

Each camp cell held 14 women, who shared a basin and a hole-in-the-floor-style toilet.

Detainees were made to sing patriotic Chinese songs and watch patriotic TV programs about Chinese President Xi Jinping.

On one occasion, Ziawudun said police officers trampled on her belly when asked about her husband.

She also mentioned that women were forcibly fitted with IUDs or sterilized.

Fact: Ziawudun was released in December 2018

Ziawudun was released in December 2018 along with others who had spouses/relatives in Kazakhstan. Her passport was returned and she fled to Kazakhstan. Fearing she would be sent back to Xinjiang, she fled to the United States with help from the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

Other accounts: 'Men would pay money to pick prettiest young inmates'

Another woman detainee told BBC she was forced to strip Uighur women, handcuff them, leave them with Chinese men, clean the room after they were done, and take the women for a shower.

The men "would pay money to have their pick of the prettiest young inmates," she said.

A teacher, Sayragul Sauytbay, said "rape was common," detailing an instance of a public gang-rape.

Fact: Four kinds of electric shock were used, says teacher

Qelbinur Sedik—an Uzbek woman who taught Chinese at the camp—in her testimony to the Uyghur Human Rights Project, had revealed that there were "four kinds of electric shock" used to torture detainees—"the chair, the glove, the helmet, and anal rape with a stick."

Aftermath: 'They say people are released, but everyone is finished'

Before Ziawudun fled to Kazakhstan, she saw others who were released from the camp. She told BBC that many had turned to alcohol.

A woman she knew from the camp was often found collapsed on the street, she said—"completely finished by the rapes."

"They say people are released," Ziawudun said, "but in my opinion, everyone who leaves the camps is finished."

Quote: Absolutely no doubt this is Xi's policy: Former diplomat

"It's very centralized and it goes to the very top," Charles Parton—a former British diplomat in China and now a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute—told BBC, "There's absolutely no doubt whatsoever that this is Xi Jinping's policy."

Parton said it was unlikely that Xi would have authorized or directed rapes or torture, but they would "certainly be aware of it."

China: China says it 'protects rights of all ethnic minorities equally'

Reportedly, the Chinese government did not respond directly to the allegations of rape and torture.

In a statement to the BBC, a spokesperson said the camps were "vocational education and training centers."

"The Chinese government protects the rights and interests of all ethnic minorities equally," she said, adding that the government "attaches great importance to protecting women's rights."