Emrah Gurel / AP
According to a new report by Amnesty International published on Thursday, the Chinese government’s actions against people in Muslim minority groups in the country constitute crimes against humanity. The report systematically describes state-organized mass imprisonment, torture and persecution of people in Xinjiang province, including Uighurs and Kazakhs. It also describes the extensive coverage efforts of the Chinese government.
More than 50 people detained in camps testified at Amnesty International’s report, and each of them said they were tortured or otherwise abused.
The United Nations has said up to 1.5 million Uighurs are in detention camps in China. Talk to NPRs Weekend edition last year, Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, called it probably the largest imprisonment of an ethno-religious minority since the Holocaust, saying the effort meets the UN definition of genocide.
Earlier this year, the United States joined the EU, Britain and Canada in sanctions against China for protesting against “human rights violations.”
NPRs All things Considered spoke with Jonathan Loeb, senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International and lead author of the report, about safely conducting interviews with former detainees, how this report proves that torture is endemic to these detention camps and about the eradication of Islamic religious practices in China. Listen to the audio player above and read on for a transcript of the interview.
This interview is edited for length and clarity.
Ailsa Chang: So if I am not mistaken, this report is the largest collection of first-hand accounts of people who have been 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 last four years and millions of Muslims in Xinjiang have been affected by the situation there, very few people have been able to come out of the country and speak publicly on this issue. What Amnesty has been trying to do over the last 18 months is to identify and contact other people who have been able to get out of Xinjiang but for security reasons have been reluctant to speak in public before. So we spent a lot of time and effort tracking down 55 former detainees from the camps who had not previously spoken. And we made sure that we could conduct these interviews in a way that is above safe channels and made as safe for them as possible.
Now reports on these detention camps and mass surveillance of those outside these camps living in Xinjiang first started showing up about four years ago. So tell me, what are the key new details that this report adds to our overall understanding of what has happened in Xinjiang?
Our report complements existing evidence; it does not duplicate it. So these are new testimonies, and they unfortunately give an incredible amount of new details about the horrible things that are going on in the camps. We have concluded that anyone sent to an internment camp experiences torture or other ill-treatment, both as a result of the cumulative effects of daily life in the camps and as a result, many of them experienced physical torture during interrogation and punishment of their time. in the camp.
And may I ask, is there any particular detail that has been most with you?
Yes, unfortunately, about 17 or 18 of the former detainees interviewed by Amnesty were interrogated and physically tortured while immobilized in tiger chairs, essentially steel chairs, where your hands and feet are attached to the chair and you are completely immobilized.
Now, the Chinese government has long said it is focusing on this population because of the “terrorist threat” that this region presents to the government. We should note that there have been reports that thousands of Uighurs had gone to fight for ISIS in Syria. Is there any cause for concern, even though what is happening in Xinjiang is absolutely regrettable?
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 their culture.
Well, one of the long lasting effects, as you say, may be the loss of culture. People are punished for speaking their mother tongue instead of Chinese Mandarin; people are tortured for bringing only religious images; women are being sterilized. What do you think the future of these minority Muslim populations in China might look like?
It is not only the future that is extraordinarily gloomy, it is the present. Much of what we are talking about here has already happened. Numerous traditions that are important for the practice of Islam – whether it is to pray, attend mosques, teach religion, wear religious clothing, give children Islamic sound names – are now actually banned. And as a result of survival, Muslims in Xinjiang have changed their behavior in a way that did not allow them to engage in religious practice anymore.
Anna Sirianni and Patrick Jarenwattananon produced and edited the sound of this story.