First-Hand Accounts of Torture Shed New Light on Horrors in Xinjiang

Very little is known about what happens inside China's Uighur reeducation camps—but international media recently got some horrifying insight.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
reeducation camp
Photo by Getty, GREG BAKER / Contributor

WARNING: This article includes descriptions of sexual assault. Some people may find the contents distressing.

A new report of Muslim detainees being systematically raped and sexually abused in China’s detention camps has renewed calls for the international community to take action against mass human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

The accounts of violence, told to the BBC by three female former detainees and one former guard, paint a chilling picture of life inside the internment camps, where an estimated 1 million members of ethnic Uighur and other Muslim groups are being held against their will.

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The British broadcaster said the former detainees and the guard “experienced or saw evidence of an organised system of mass rape, sexual abuse and torture.”

One detainee said that women were removed from their cells “every night” and raped by one or more masked Chinese men, adding that she was tortured and gang-raped on three occasions. The BBC said it was “impossible” to fully verify the account of the detainee, whom it said had fled Xinjiang to Kazakhstan and was now in the United States. The travel documents provided by the detainee corroborated her story’s timeline, BBC said.

Another detainee said she was forced to strip Uighur women naked, handcuff them to the bed so they could be raped by guards, then take them for a shower and clean the room where it happened. A third detainee said some women were tortured by guards who raped them with an electrified stick. VICE World News could not independently verify the allegations.

Uighur advocacy groups say that such horrific details constitute further evidence of the severe abuse and mistreatment of Uighurs by Chinese authorities.

“Chinese policemen and camp staff and their methods of conducting sexual abuse and torture towards Uighur women are the same and consistent,” Nurgul Sawut, from the group Campaign for Uyghurs, told the ABC. “Their common methods are: gang rape, attacks on Uyghur women’s dignity and selling Uyghur women as sex slaves.”

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The U.S. government on Wednesday said it was “deeply disturbed” by the reports of sexual abuse and repeated the U.S. charges that Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang amounted to “crimes against humanity and genocide,” Reuters reported. A State Department spokeswoman said China should immediately allow independent investigations into the rape allegations and other atrocities in Xinjiang, according to Reuters.

China’s state-sanctioned oppression of Uighurs has taken place in the far-western region since at least 2014, when the Communist Party of China launched what it called the “Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism”: an attempt by the government, following several terror attacks from Uighur separatists, to combat religious extremism by punishing Uighurs.

Chinese authorities have used so-called “reeducation camps” to indoctrinate Uighurs and other Muslims since at least 2017, according to Human Rights Watch, detaining them for the stated purpose of promoting social integration.

China was also found to use advanced technology to conduct predictive policing of the mostly Muslim minorities, selecting them for detention based on seemingly innocuous behaviour.

A former guard at the camps told the BBC that detainees were punished for seemingly minor infractions, such as failing to accurately memorise passages from books about Xi Jinping, by having food withheld or being beaten.

"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," said the guard. "I entered those camps. I took detainees into those camps. I saw those sick, miserable people. 

“They definitely experienced various types of torture. I am sure about that."

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