One Uighur doctor in exile recalled the horrors of forcibly performing operations on women in China as part of the country’s attempts to control its ethnic Turkic minority population.
The Uighurs are a mostly-Muslim minority group that largely lives in China’s northwestern autonomous territory of Xinjiang. About 11 million Uighurs live in Xinjiang, and researchers estimate that over one million of them are being held in “re-education” camps likened to detention centers.
In an interview with British television network ITV that aired on Thursday, September 3, a Uighur doctor revealed that she had performed “at least 500 to 600 operations” on Uighur women, including forced sterilizations and abortions, on behalf of the Chinese government.
“We’d go village to village to gather all the women and herd them onto tractors,” she said. “Young women were fitted with contraceptive devices, pregnant women would have to have an abortion, then sterilization. We even inserted birth control implants into women’s upper arms to prevent pregnancy.”
This also included a forced removal of wombs, the woman told the outlet.
“This is how the government persecuted Uighur women,” the doctor, who did not reveal her face or name on camera, told ITV correspondent Emma Murphy.
“The clear intention was ethnic cleansing,” she said. “We were asked to believe this was part of the Communist Party’s control plan.”
The woman, who performed these operations for 20 years before fleeing to Turkey, said at the time she felt it was “part of her job.” Now, she says she feels “such regret” and recognizes the damage caused to the Uighur population, whose birth rates have reportedly plummeted over the past few years.
Other Uighur women in exile featured in the ITV report supported the doctor’s statements. They described being forced to take birth control or hide their pregnancies to avoid forced abortions.
Previous reporting has also detailed forced sterilizations and large fines for Uighur families that have more than two children.
U.S.-based Uighur exile Mehrigul Tursun spoke out at a human rights event hosted by Amnesty International in 2019. While in the U.S., she underwent a medical examination and learned that she had been sterilized during her time at a detention center.
A report released by German scholar Adrian Zenz in June 2020 also discussed forced sterilization of Uighur detainees in the camps.
“Documents from 2019 reveal plans for a campaign of mass female sterilization in rural Uyghur regions, targeting 14 and 34 percent of all married women of childbearing age in two Uyghur counties that year,” Zenz wrote.
“This project targeted all of southern Xinjiang, and continued in 2020 with increased funding.”
Zenz added that his findings “raise serious concerns” as to whether Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang amount to genocide.
According to ITV, the Uighur doctor now helps other Uighur women who fled to Turkey and is “trying to right the wrongs of her past.”
“Many of the women don’t know what was done to them and need medical help,” the outlet said.
China has admitted to the existence of reeducation camps in Xinjiang but has said that detainees are free to go after graduating.
China’s foreign ministry has slammed the allegations of sterilization and forced abortions among Uighur women as being “baseless” with “ulterior motives.”
In July, the U.S. imposed sanctions on several Chinese companies for human rights abuses in Xinjiang.