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Amnesty terms Chinese Uyghur abuses 'crimes against humanity'

The 160-page report by Amnesty International uses the testimony of former detainees to document the abuses.

Protestors wear masks symbolising the silencing of the Uyghur people by China.
Protestors wear masks symbolising the silencing of the Uyghur people by China.
Image: Shutterstock/Sandra Sanders

THE REPRESSION OF hundreds of thousands of China’s Uyghur Muslim minority amounts to “crimes against humanity”, an Amnesty International report has said. 

In a 160-page document that includes testimonies from former detainees in camps in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, Amnesty detailed what it called “systematic state-organised mass imprisonment, torture and persecution amounting to crimes against humanity”.

The report documents what the rights group called “extreme measures” taken by Chinese authorities since 2017 against Uyghurs and people from other ethnic-Turkic minorities.

“The Chinese authorities have created a dystopian hellscape on a staggering scale,” Amnesty’s secretary general Agnès Callamard said.

“Muslim minorities face crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations,” she added, saying the abuses “should shock the conscience of humanity”.

The report documents how, since early 2017, huge numbers of men and women in Xinjiang have been arbitrarily detained.

“They include hundreds of thousands who have been sent to prisons in addition to hundreds of thousands –- perhaps even a million or more –- who have been sent to internment camps,” the report said.

All of the more than 50 former detainees that Amnesty interviewed said they had been detained for conduct such as possessing a religious-themed picture or communicating with someone abroad.

Many detainees described first being taken for questioning in police stations where they were attached to steel chairs with leg irons and handcuffs.

They said beatings, sleep deprivation and overcrowding were common, and in “extraordinarily regimented” internment camps they had no privacy or autonomy and risked harsh punishments.

“The Chinese government has gone to extraordinary lengths to cover up its violations of international human rights law in Xinjiang,” Amnesty said.

Jonathan Loeb, Senior Crisis Advisor with Amnesty International, said that the Chinese Government has gone to “tremendous efforts” to prevent the world from hearing about the plight of the Uyghur. 

Speaking on RTE radio this morning he outlined the reasons for the detentions. 

“Initially denying the existence of the camps, and subsequently referring to them as a detention facility.

“But despite again what the government has said, the camps were not designed to educate them under any reasonable understanding of that term.

“They were designed to erase people’s cultural identity. Similarly, all of the 55 former detainees who interviewed that were in these internment camps had been attained have been detained for what appears to be by all reasonable standards higher lawful conduct, no one committed an internationally recognized criminal event.

“They were detained because they had traveled abroad, because they had called someone abroad, or because their family member had traveled abroad or called someone abroad.

“Many were detained because they downloaded WhatsApp or Skype or some other foreign software application on their phone and many were arrested for praying or for working in a mosque or having religious content on their phone, and these are the types of reasons why people are sent,” he said. 

Loeb said that the use of psychological and physical torture in the camps is widespread. 

“Unfortunately torture is endemic in internment camps, every former detainee Amnesty International interviewed were tortured or subject of other cruel inhumane and degrading treatment.

“These are inescapable aspects of life and determine the report divides the culture that occurs in these camps with the two broad categories,” he said. 

Loeb explained that the detainees are strapped to the so-called Tiger Chair which is used to restrain them, either during interrogations or as punishment.

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“Tiger chairs are the old metal chairs where a detainees’ arms and legs are affixed to the chair. Essentially they are entirely immobilized, and detainees are maimed, often times, can sit in these chairs for 24 hours at a time. And often they are interrogated and otherwise, physically beaten while immobilised in the chair,” he added.

The US government has accused China of waging “genocide” in Xinjiang. Britain has declined to use that designation, but joined the United States and Germany last month in calling on Beijing to end repression of the Uyghur minority.

Beijing has repeatedly denied that abuses take place there, saying they are work camps meant to deter extremism and boost incomes.

“China must immediately dismantle the internment camps, release the people arbitrarily detained in them and in prisons,” Callamard said, calling for a UN investigation under international law.

© AFP 2021

Additional reporting by Niall O’Connor.

The latest episode of The Explainer podcast examined this topic. Host Sinéad O’Carroll was joined by Berlin-based freelance journalist Clifford Coonan, who tells us more about the Uighurs, their relationship with China, and the human rights abuse claims.  


Source: The Explainer/SoundCloud

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