Emrah Gurel / AP
According to a new Amnesty International report released on Thursday, the actions of the Chinese government against people belonging to the country’s Muslim minority groups constitute crimes against humanity. The report details the systematic state-organized mass imprisonment, torture and persecution against residents of Xinjiang province, including Uyghurs and Kazakhs. It also details the Chinese government’s extensive cover-up efforts.
More than 50 people detained in camps provided testimony to Amnesty International’s report, and each of them said they had been tortured or ill-treated.
The United Nations has said that up to 1.5 million Uyghurs are in internment camps in China. Talk to NPRs Weekend edition Last year, Adrian Zenz, senior researcher in Chinese studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, called it possibly the largest incarceration of an ethnoreligious minority since the Holocaust and said the effort responds to the UN definition of genocide.
Earlier this year, the United States joined the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada in sanctions against China to protest “human rights violations”.
NPR All things Considered spoke with Jonathan Loeb, Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International and lead author of the report, about the safe conduct of interviews with former camp detainees, how this report proves torture is rampant in these internment camps and the eradication of Islamic religious practices in China. Listen in the audio player above and read on for a transcript of the interview.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Ailsa Chang: So this report, if I’m not mistaken, is the largest compilation of first-hand testimony from people detained in Xinjiang. Is it correct?
Jonathan Loeb: Yes. Despite the fact that at least hundreds of thousands of people have been sent to internment camps over the past four years and millions of Muslims in Xinjiang have been affected by the situation there, there are still many few people who have been able to leave the country and speak publicly about this issue. What Amnesty has tried to do over the past 18 months is to identify and contact other people who may have left Xinjiang, but who, for security reasons, were unwilling to do so. ‘express publicly before. So we spent a lot of time and effort locating 55 former camp detainees who had not spoken before. And we made sure that we could conduct these interviews as safe and as safe as possible for them.
Now the reports of these detention camps and mass surveillance of those outside these camps and living in Xinjiang began to surface about four years ago. So tell me, what are the most important new details that this report adds to our overall understanding of what’s going on in Xinjiang?
Our report augments this existing evidence; he does not duplicate it. So these are new testimonies and they provide an incredible amount of new details, unfortunately, about the terrible things that are happening in the camps. We have concluded that anyone sent to an internment camp suffers torture or other ill-treatment, both due to the cumulative effects of daily life in the camps and as a result, many of them have suffered harms. physical torture during interrogation and punishment during their stay in the camp.
And may I ask, is there one particular detail that struck you the most?
Yes, unfortunately around 17 or 18 of the former detainees Amnesty interviewed were interrogated and physically tortured while immobilized on tiger chairs, mostly steel chairs where your hands and feet are attached to the chair. and you are completely immobilized.
Now, the Chinese government has long said that it is focusing on this population because of the “terrorist threat” that this region poses to the government. It should be noted that there have been reports noting that thousands of Uyghurs have gone to fight for ISIS in Syria. Is there any reason to be concerned, even though what is happening in Xinjiang is absolutely deplorable?
Every government has the right to respond in accordance with international law to any legitimate threat of terrorism. But what we have here is a campaign to target an entire people based solely on their religion and culture.
Well, one of the longest lasting effects, as you say, may be the loss of culture. People are punished for speaking their mother tongue instead of Mandarin Chinese; people are tortured for wearing even religious-themed images; women are sterilized. What do you think the future of these minority Muslim populations in China might look like?
It’s not just the future that’s extraordinarily bleak, it’s the present. Much of what we are talking about here has already happened. Many traditions essential to the practice of Islam – be it prayer, going to mosques, teaching religion, wearing religious clothing, giving children Islamic-sounding names – are now, indeed, prohibited. And as a result, in order to survive, Muslims in Xinjiang changed their behavior in ways that no longer allowed them to engage in religious practice.
Anna Sirianni and Patrick Jarenwattananon produced and edited the audio for this story.