“Like we were enemies in a war”

China’s Mass Internment, Torture and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang

“Like we were enemies in a war” China’s Mass Internment, Torture and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang

Illustrations by Molly Crabapple

Since 2017, the government of China has carried out massive and systematic abuses against Muslims living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang). The human suffering has been immense. Huge numbers of men and women from predominantly Muslim ethnic groups have been arbitrarily detained and sent to internment camps or prison. The internment camp system is part of a larger campaign of subjugation and forced assimilation of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

From late 2019 to mid 2021, Amnesty International has been investigating these abuses. On 10 June Amnesty published a report based on new first-hand testimonies gathered from former detainees of the internment camps and other people who were present in Xinjiang after 2017, as well as from an analysis of satellite imagery and data. The report provides the most comprehensive account ever of life inside the internment camps. The evidence Amnesty International has gathered provides a factual basis for the conclusion that the Chinese government has committed at least the following crimes against humanity: imprisonment, torture, and persecution.

The government’s abuses are ongoing. Large numbers of people are still arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang. Moreover, the government has devoted tremendous resources to concealing the truth about its actions. It prevents millions of people living in Xinjiang from communicating freely about the situation and denies journalists and investigators meaningful access to the region. People living abroad are often unable to obtain information about family members in Xinjiang who are missing and presumed to be detained.

This website presents the evidence gathered by Amnesty’s investigation. This includes the full report as well as detailed information about more than 60 cases of missing or detained persons.

Missing and Detained People

Imagine if you were detained in an internment camp or sentenced to prison for years merely because of: your ethnicity; your travelling or living or studying abroad; the number of children you have; your religion; having WhatsApp on your phone; or your calls to friends and relatives abroad. That’s the reality for huge numbers of predominantly Muslim men and women – perhaps 1 million or more – detained in Xinjiang since 2017. Many have been arbitrarily detained for what appears to be, by all reasonable standards, entirely lawful conduct. Explore some of their stories and take action! Together we can fight this injustice.

Alim Hashani

阿里木 · 哈沙尼

Assumed Location

Internment camp, Urumqi

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

His work

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

August 2018

Alim is a famous intellectual and retired linguist. In August 2018, he was sent to an internment camp after being taken away in Beijing while attending some meetings for a translation project coordinated by the National Translation Committee. He has been detained since then. His son, now living in France, recently received a confirmation of his father’s detention through a credible source, but the Chinese authorities have shared no details or official documentation with him related to the sentence or the status of his father’s case. Alim’s son lost contact with his family in China after starting to campaign publicly for his father’s release, hence he cannot confirm whether the rest of the family has received official information.
Alim suffers from diabetes, and it is unknown whether he can access adequate medical treatment.
His son believes that his father is detained solely for keeping the Uyghur language alive through his work.

Personal Details

Alim is described by his son as a “rigorous expert, responsible father [and a] very honest and respectful citizen”. He also added that his father was always very careful and respected the censorship imposed by the Chinese government. Alim is creative and well-educated, and he enjoys playing music and painting.

Date of Birth

4 December 1954

Ethnicity

Tatar/Uyghur

Hometown

Fukang

Profession

Former head of government terminology department

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Imamhesen Memetrusul

依马木艾山 · 买买提肉苏力

Assumed Location

“Orphan camp”

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Family member abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

September 2016

Imamhesen was only 11 years old when he spoke for the last time with his father in August 2016. His father, living in Kyrgyzstan, remembers the words from that last call he received from Imamhesen and his twin brother, Imamhusen Memetrasul: “They called me saying, ‘Dad, you should come, otherwise they will detain us’.” Imamhesen’s father moved abroad for work and believes that the police were threatening the family because he left Xinjiang. When interviewed, he told Amnesty International: “I think, yes, they disappeared because I didn’t return [to Xinjiang]; even if I would go back, they would still detain my family and myself.” After that call, the father lost contact with his family. The last update he received was in 2017. Since then, he has tried in many ways to gather information from the Chinese authorities about his family’s whereabouts, with no success. He added, “I have no idea where they may be.”

Personal Details

His father describes Imamhesen and his twin brother, Imamhusen, as very smart and good at school, mature despite their young age and interested in sport. He also remembers how close they were to him when he was still living in Xinjiang. He said: “They used to be my boys, we were really close to each other. We used to go to the restaurants … They had a lot of appetite! They put their hands straight into the pot, they had crazy appetite.” He ended the interview saying: “I just want … to see them again.” Unfortunately, Imamhesen and Imamhusen’s mother, Nurmangul Ebey, was reportedly detained in September 2016.

Date of Birth

12 October 2005

Ethnicity

Uzbek

Hometown

Kargilik, Kashgar province

Profession

Student

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Rukiya Mohammed Amin

Assumed Location

Prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Contact with family abroad, nature of work of a family member

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

Mid-2015

“If you keep calling, they [Chinese authorities] will keep on threating me” told Rukiya to her mother now living in Sweden. Rukiya was detained in mid-2015 and sentenced to three years in prison. The official charges are unknown but according to her mother, the phone calls she had with her daughter were the reason of her detention along with the fact that her uncle was an imam. It appears that the Chinese authorities have not provided any official documents about her status. Since 2015 her mother has no information about her whereabouts and fears she might still be imprisoned. “I just want to know where my daughter is” said her mother to Amnesty. “This is in my head 24/7. It’s torturing me every second. This is the hard punishment for a mother.”

Personal Details

Rukiya has two children, Abdullah who is nine years old and Maqbullah who is six or seven years old. She loves spending time with them and cooking for them. Maqbullah has some heart problems since he was little and needs hospital treatments. Rukiya’s mother told Amnesty International that she thinks he may be probably dead.

Date of Birth

15 March 1992

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kucha County

Profession

Housewife

Read More

Abdukadir Jalalidin

阿卜杜卡德尔 · 加拉里丁

Assumed Location

Internment camp or in prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Writing and publishing books, poems in Uyghur language

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

January 2018

Abdukadir was taken away from his home on 29 January 2018, according to his son interviewed by Amnesty International from his home in the USA. His mother called his sister, who was studying in Turkey, saying that Abdukadir had been detained. The day before, police officers had come to Abdukadir’s house and took away some of his belongings, including Uyghur-language books, writings and electronic devices. Abdukadir’s family believes he might have been sent to an internment camp.
Later, Abdukadir’s wife was also taken away from her home and held in an internment camp from January 2018 to March 2019 for being the wife of Abdukadir. Family members in China told Abdukadir’s children that their mother was asked to “study hard, work hard.”

After Abdukadir’s wife was released, she was told by the Xinjiang Normal University, where Abdukadir worked as a professor, that he was laid off without any official reasons. Abdukadir’s wife is able to keep regular contact with her children abroad, but she does not dare to share details about her “re-education” experience with them.

Personal Details

Abdukadir is a writer who, before being detained, loved to write stories about what he saw and translated books and poems in Uyghur. He used to spend a lot of time visiting bookstores.

Date of Birth

11 March 1964

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kashgar

Profession

Professor at Xinjiang Normal University

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Buayshem Ablimit

Assumed Location

Prison, Kona Sheher County, Kashgar

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Teaching Qur'an

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

Early 2016

Buayshem’s cousin told Amnesty International from his home in the USA that Buayshem, a housewife and a farmer from Guleluke Xiang, Payzawat County, was sentenced to 4–5 years’ imprisonment in early 2016 for teaching Qur’an. Her father found out about this from a trusted source when he went to visit his daughter in May 2016. Buayshem’s cousin has lost connection with his family in China and is unable to gather further information about her whereabouts. Buayshem has several family members held in detention facilities, including her cousin Nejibulla Ablet.

Personal Details

Buayshem’s cousin told Amnesty International that Buayshem is a good friend from childhood. The family used to visit the village in summer and spend weeks and months with the cousins.

Date of Birth

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Guleluke Xiang, Gulluk Township, Payzawat County (Jiashi), Kashgar Prefecture

Profession

Housewife, farmer

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Rifat Perhat

热发提 · 帕拉哈提

Assumed Location

Prison, Yengixahar County (Shule), Kashgar Prefecture

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Well-educated, religious friends, transfer of money to family abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

May 2018

Rifat has been in prison since 2018, possibly with a sentence of 10 years. Rifat’s brother-in-law told Amnesty International that the detention may have been for “supporting terrorism” – solely because Rifat sent money abroad to a family member – and “extremism” – just because Rifat had some Uyghur friends who used to pray. However, Rifat’s brother-in-law, now in the Netherlands, could not confirm the official reasons, nor has he received documents or official communications from the Chinese authorities about the charges against Rifat.
Through reliable sources that managed to get a reply from the Chinese authorities, Rifat’s brother-in-law was able to confirm that Rifat was detained in May 2018 and received reassurance that Rifat was not going to be executed. Rifat’s brother-in-law believes that the family in China can visit Rifat from time to time and that they have received some official documents, but it was not possible for him to obtain a copy.

Personal Details

Rifat, a government official at the time of his arrest, studied geology and collected precious stones. He had planned to start an amber business with his brother-in-law.
He has a son and a daughter. Before his detention, he had planned to leave China with his family but that did not happen because the passport for his son was never issued by the Chinese authorities and Rifat and his wife did not want to leave any of their children behind.

Date of Birth

27 April 1990

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Karamay

Profession

Government official

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Suriye Tursun

苏力也.吐尔逊

Assumed Location

Prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Travelling to Turkey to visit her son

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“Funding terrorist activities”

Last Contact

January 2018

Suriye’s son, who is currently in Turkey, has not been able to contact his mother, Suriye, or his father or brother in Xinjiang since January 2018. He was told by a source in December 2019 that his family members had been sent to an internment camp. His father and brother were released, but his mother Suriye stayed in the camp. In February 2020, a person who claimed to be calling from the Chinese embassy in Turkey called her son and said Suriye had been convicted of “funding terrorist activities” and sentenced to five years in prison. No evidence against Suriye was provided.

Personal Details

Suriye is very friendly and likes cooking and travelling.

Date of Birth

23 March 1964

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Shuiding Town, Huocheng County

Profession

Civil Servant

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Ametjan Abdurashid

艾买提江· 阿布都热西提

Assumed Location

Prison, Artux city

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Ethnicity, family members abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

March 2016

According to the person interviewed by Amnesty International and based in the USA, Ametjan was taken away in March 2016 by the police and later sentenced to seven years in prison after being tried at the end of the same year. It seems that Ametjan was represented by a government-assigned lawyer during the trial and that his father, Abdurashid Tohti – now in prison with a sentence of 16 years and 11 months – was able to attend the trial before being arrested himself in 2017.

The official reasons for Ametjan’s detention are unknown, but the person Amnesty International interviewed believes Ametjan has been detained because of his ethnicity, and the fact that he has family members living abroad.

The person Amnesty International spoke with does not have any official documentation for Ametjan’s case.

Personal Details

Ametjan is described as generous, funny and entertaining. He loves cars and martial arts and enjoys watching action movies. He is married and has one daughter and two sons. Unfortunately, the person Amnesty International spoke with does not have any details on their whereabouts.

In addition to Ametjan’s father, his brother Memeteli Abdurashi and his mother Tajigul Qadir are also in prison, both detained since 2017.

Date of Birth

16 April 1986

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kashgar

Profession

Auto repair shop owner, self-employed

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Rahile Dawut

热依拉.达吾提

Assumed Location

Internment camp or in prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

December 2017

Rahile’s daughter told Amnesty International that the last time she spoke to her mother, Rahile, was December 2017. Since then, she has not been able to contact her mother, a prominent Uyghur scholar. She fears that her mother has been detained at an internment camp or prison in Xinjiang. When Rahile’s daughter, who lives in the USA, contacted relatives and her mother’s students back in China, no one was able to provide her with any information. “I am scared for my mom. I am really concerned about her health and safety,” Rahile’s daughter told Amnesty International. “She is an honest and assiduous teacher. She dedicated all her life [to] teaching and research. I can’t think of any reason why she should suffer.”

Personal Details

Rahile likes cooking, dancing, music and photography.

Date of Birth

20 May 1966

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Urumqi

Profession

Scholar in Uyghur culture studies

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Mijit Gheni

米吉提.艾尼

Assumed Location

Prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“gathering a crowd to disturb public order and inciting ethnic hatred and discrimination”

Last Contact

May 2017

Mijit is Fatima Ablikim’s uncle. He was sentenced to 16 years and six months in May 2018 for “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” and “inciting ethnic hatred and discrimination”. No other information about his case was provided by the Chinese authorities when responding to an inquiry from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2020.
Mijit has some family members imprisoned, including Fatima Ablikim.

Personal Details

Mijit was a taxi driver from Uqturpan County, Aksu Prefecture.

Date of Birth

20 May 1969

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Uqturpan (Wushi) County, Aksu Prefecture

Profession

Taxi driver

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Nurmangul Ebey

Assumed Location

Prison, Kucha

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Husband working abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

September 2016

Nurmangul’s husband told Amnesty International that his wife was sent to prison around September 2016 because he was working abroad and could not go back to China when the Chinese authorities asked him to do so. He remembered the last call he received from Nurmangul: “The police called me and said that if you don’t come to Xinjiang, we will detain your wife and kids.” She was taken away just a couple of months after that call. Her husband found out later about her detention through friends still living in China. Despite his numerous attempts to get in touch with the Chinese authorities, he never received information or official documentation about her case. He doubts that there was a fair trial or that she has access to a lawyer of her choice. Nurmangul’s husband, now in Kyrgyzstan, is unable to get in touch with his family in China and is worried for his wife and children. He heard that she is detained in a prison in Kucha, which he describes as “the worst prison in the area”.

Personal Details

Nurmangul’s husband describes her as a great mother, wife and person. Nurmangul was planning to reunite the family and join her husband in Kyrgyzstan, but in the end that was not possible. After he left China to move abroad for work, she lived by herself and took care of their children, Imamhesen Memetrusul and Imamhusen Memetrusul, whose whereabouts are also unknown to him. In 2015, the Chinese authorities reportedly forced her to have an abortion during the seventh month of her pregnancy.
Nurmangul’s husband ended the interview saying: “I want her to be alive, I want to see her again, I want to live with her again, I just want my family with me.”
Other family members believed to be detained include a sister of Nurmangul’s husband and her children.

Date of Birth

30 April 1981

Ethnicity

Kyrgyz/Uzbek

Hometown

Kargilik, Kashgar province

Profession

Housewife

Read More

Abdurahman Memet

阿不都热合曼·买买提

Assumed Location

Detention center, Turpan

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Leaking letters from internment camps

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

July 2019

Abdurahman’s nephew told Amnesty International that Abdurahman received a call from the Turpan police while he was guiding a tour in Yili in July 2019. After returning to Turpan, he was immediately taken away and all contact with him was lost.

Abdurahman’s nephew believes that Abdurahman was detained for leaking letters from camps. These letters were shared with a relative who was living abroad and were then widely posted online and in the Xinjiang Victims Database. It is unclear whether he is now in an internment camp or a prison. Abdurahman’s nephew, who currently lives in Japan, does not know how other family members are doing in China, as he has lost all contact since Abdurahman’s disappearance.

Abdurahman has several family members held in detention facilities, including his older brother, Muhemmedeli Tursun.

Personal Details

Abdurahman likes sports. He cares about his family and was their main financial support. He always accompanied his parents to hospital in Urumqi for their medical appointments.

Date of Birth

17 September 1989

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Turpan

Profession

Tour guide

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Maimaiti Hamdullah

买买提 · 艾木都

Assumed Location

Internment camp, Korla

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Travelling and investing in Turkey

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

Late 2017

Maimaiti was at home when he was detained in November 2017. His brother, now based in Turkey, found out from one of Maimaiti’s employees that he was taken to an internment camp in Korla. Soon after, the employee cut off contact with him on social media platforms. Maimaiti was a business partner with his elder brother, Rouzi Hamdullah, who is also presumed to be in an internment camp. His brother told Amnesty International that he also learned that all the assets and properties of his brothers were confiscated by the Chinese government. In early 2016, Maimaiti and his brother Rouzi started a medical tourism project worth US$100 million in Ankara, Turkey, and had already invested US$5 million in the project prior to their detention.

Personal Details

Maimaiti is a father of four who loves reading books, especially about history.

Date of Birth

8 January 1982

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Korla

Profession

Construction contractor

Read More

Emet Turdi

艾麦提 · 图尔迪

Assumed Location

Prison, Korla, LopNur county (Yuli)

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Travelling to Egypt, being wealthy

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“Separatism”

Last Contact

10 April 2017

Emet, the owner of a restaurant located in LopNur (Yuli) county, was detained in April 2017. According to the person Amnesty International interviewed, now based in The Netherlands, Emet was sentenced for “separatism”, reportedly without any known trial, and is now imprisoned in Korla city serving a life sentence. It is believed that the Chinese authorities have not shared any official documents about Emet’s status with his family members remaining in China, and that the reasons for his detention are the fact that Emet was a Uyghur businessman and travelled to Egypt. It is not known whether Emet was granted access to a lawyer of his choice and whether he is currently able to speak with his family.

Personal Details

Emet is married and has four daughters. He is described as a caring father who “loves spending time with his kids; his main hobby was spending time with them, travelling with them, bringing them to the mountains.” The person Amnesty International interviewed also added that Emet’s wife was detained while her husband was already in prison. She reportedly spent a year and a half in an internment camp and an additional year and a half in a camp where she was allegedly forced to make gloves for a very low salary that was not even guaranteed every month.

Date of Birth

5 February 1987

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Korla, LopNur county (Yuli)

Profession

Restaurant owner

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Muhemmedeli Tursun

买买提力·吐尔逊

Assumed Location

Prison, Korla

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Nature of work, preservation of Uyghur culture and mosques

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“Picking quarrels and provoking trouble”

Last Contact

24 March 2017

In 2014, surveillance cameras were installed outside Muhemmedeli’s home. According to his son, who spoke to Amnesty International from his home in Japan, Muhemmedeli was arrested after being called to a meeting of imams organized by the local authorities one Friday morning in March 2017.

In October 2017, Muhemmedeli sent a letter to his family from a prison in Korla informing them of his six-year prison sentence for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. He reportedly had a closed-door trial without a lawyer of his choice to represent him or his family being notified. Muhemmedeli has several family members held in detention facilities including his younger brother, Abdurahman Memet.

Personal Details

Muhemmedeli has a kind heart. He was a farmer and a Friday imam of the neighbourhood. During the hot summers in Turpan, he used to pour water into a large bucket for the birds to drink so that they would not die of dehydration. His motto is “Whenever you encounter something, don’t rush to the forefront, and don’t fall to the back.”

Date of Birth

1 October 1970

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Turpan

Profession

Imam, farmer

Read More

Rizayidin Abdurishid

热扎依丁 · 阿不都热西提

Assumed Location

Prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Transfer of money to siblings abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“Suspected of aiding terrorist activities and taking part in illegal business operations”

Last Contact

December 2017

Rizayidin’s sister told Amnesty International from her home in Turkey that Rizayidin, a businessman from Urumqi, was taken away in December 2017 for allegedly sending money to his siblings studying in Egypt. Rizayidin was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in a proceeding that does not appear to have been open to the public. His sister does not have evidence of the official charges against him or any official documents.

Rizayidin attended school in Urumqi’s Xinjiang Experimental Middle School. Then, he studied in Egypt for five years before returning to Urumqi to take care of the family business.
Rizayidin’s father, Abdurishid Hoshur, is also in a detention facility.

Personal Details

Rizayidin is married and has two children. He loves to travel. He likes cars and technology and always uses the latest mobile devices. He speaks English and Mandarin very well and knows a little bit of Arabic.

Date of Birth

1988

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Urumqi

Profession

Businessman

Read More

Zuhre Suphi

早热木古力 · 苏皮

Assumed Location

Prison, Kumul (Hami)

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Helping daughter studying in Turkey

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

June 2017

Zuhre’s daughter, currently living in Turkey, told Amnesty International that the last time she spoke to her mother was 25 May 2017. Soon after, Zuhre was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in Kumul, according to her relatives. Based on the information Zuhre’s daughter has been able to gather, Zuhre was imprisoned merely for helping her daughter study abroad and sending her money.
Zuhre’s husband, Mahmud Hamdullah, is also held in a detention facility.

Personal Details

Zuhre used to run a tailor shop in Kumul. She likes to read books and teach others how to make clothes.

Date of Birth

26 May 1972

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kumul (Hami)

Profession

Housewife

Read More

Memeteli Abdurashid

麦麦提艾力· 阿布都热西提

Assumed Location

Prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Ethnicity, family members abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“Might think of preparing terrorist activities”

Last Contact

June 2017

Memeteli has been imprisoned since August 2017, after being arrested together with his parents, Abdurashid Tohti and Tajigul Qadir. However, it was only in June 2020 that the Chinese embassy in Ankara confirmed – with a call to a family member living in Turkey – Memeteli’s sentence to 15 years and 11 months for “having potentially thought of promoting terrorist activities”. It appears that the Chinese authorities have not provided any official documents about the charges against Memeteli and that Memeteli has had no access to a lawyer of his choice. The person interviewed by Amnesty International and based in the USA believes Memeteli was sent to an internment camp before being sent to prison and that the reasons behind Memeteli’s sentence were actually his ethnicity and the fact that some family members were living in Turkey when he was arrested.

Personal Details

Memeteli is the youngest in his family. Before being arrested he worked in the auto repair shop owned by the family together with his brother, Ametjan, and his father, Abdurashid.

He enjoys sports and loves spending time with the whole family.

He is married and has two children. Unfortunately, the person Amnesty International spoke with does not have any information on their whereabouts.

In addition to his parents, Memeteli’s brother, Ametjan Abdurashid is also in prison with a seven-year sentence.

Date of Birth

26 March 1990

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kashgar

Profession

Auto repair shop owner, self-employed

Read More

Rouzi Hamdullah

肉孜 · 艾木都

Assumed Location

Internment camp, Korla

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Travelling and investing in Turkey

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

October 2017

Rouzi had been working as an international construction contractor before he went missing in October 2017. His brother told Amnesty International that he believes Rouzi was detained because he was a wealthy Uyghur businessman who invested in a million-dollar project in Turkey. A Uyghur police officer from Korla reached out to Rouzi’s brother over WhatsApp and asked him to stop his activism about his family; otherwise, his life would be difficult and he would not be able to talk to his family. The officer also confirmed that Rouzi was “inside” and said it is possible that he could be released but did not know when. When Rouzi’s brother asked why Rouzi and his other brother, Maimaiti Hamdullah, were inside, the officer said that is what the government wants. Later, Rouzi’s brother learned from one of Rouzi’s employees that Rouzi had been taken from his house in Urumqi to an internment camp in Korla. Rouzi’s brother applied to the Chinese consulate in Istanbul many times to seek information about the whereabouts of his brother but received no response.

Personal Details

Rouzi has four children. He likes travelling abroad and visited many countries, often on business trips.

Date of Birth

5 September 1974

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Korla

Profession

Construction contractor

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Merhaba Musa

美丽哈巴 · 穆沙

Assumed Location

Internment camp

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Applying for travel visa to South Korea, precedent with police

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

July 2017

In early 2017, Merhaba told a friend that she might be sent for “education” soon. That friend, based in Norway, told Amnesty International that she has not been able to contact Merhaba since late 2017 via WeChat.

Before Merhaba was taken away, she worked at one of the Urumqi Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) bus stations. In her job, she was tasked with inspecting the personal belongings and phones of Uyghurs and members of other ethnic groups. Merhaba’s friend said the stress of her job led Merhaba to suffer a mental breakdown.

Personal Details

Merhaba is divorced with one son. Her life goal was to provide her son with the best education possible and a safe environment. She worked very hard. She dreamed of going to Korea to learn how to create eyebrow tattoos and then open her own beauty salon back home.

Date of Birth

17 February 1981

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Shuimogou District, Urumqi

Profession

Staff at BRT bus station

Read More

Elijan Mamut

艾力江·马木提

Assumed Location

Internment camp

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Ethnicity, travelling abroad, transfer of money to daughters studying abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

May 2017

Elijan was detained in May 2017, according to his daughter interviewed by Amnesty International and now resident in the USA. The last time she spoke briefly with her father, in May 2017, he seemed worried and asked her to send him any documents about her status when she was a student in Turkey. She believes that the Chinese police made him ask this question.
Elijan’s daughter was informed about her father’s detention in an internment camp by a friend living in China, but she was not able to gather any official information from the Chinese authorities about his case, the reasons behind the detention and whether Elijan has access to a lawyer of his choice. When interviewed by Amnesty International she said: “I wrote public letters, sent emails to the Chinese embassy [and] called multiple times. My sister in Turkey has been protesting [for] over a month in front of the Chinese embassy, [but] we haven’t received any feedback.”

Personal Details

Elijan is very active and loves the outdoors. He is also a keen gardener. He loves spending time with his family, and it was a tradition for them to spend every Sunday all together.

Date of Birth

12 April 1974

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kashgar

Profession

Businessman

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Gulshan Abbas

古丽先.阿巴斯

Assumed Location

Prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Her sister's activism for Uyghurs in the USA

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“Taking part in organized terrorism, aiding terrorist activities and seriously disrupting social order”

Last Contact

10 September 2018

Retired Uyghur doctor Gulshan was sentenced in March 2019 to 20 years’ imprisonment in a secret trial for “taking part in organized terrorism, aiding terrorist activities and seriously disrupting social order”. Gulshan’s family learned about this sentencing through a trusted source 21 months later in December 2020. Ever since Gulshan went missing in Urumqi on 10 September 2018, no official information about her whereabouts or condition has been shared with her family. Her family based in the USA believe that she might have been sent to an internment camp before she was imprisoned.
No concrete evidence against Gulshan has been made public, but Gulshan’s family believe that her lengthy sentence is linked to the activism for Uyghurs of her relatives living in the USA.

Personal Details

Gulshan likes cooking and embroidery stitching. She has multiple chronic diseases that require constant monitoring and regular medical treatment.

Date of Birth

12 June 1962

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Urumqi

Profession

Retired doctor

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Imamhusen Memetrusul

依马木玉山 · 买买提肉苏力

Assumed Location

“Orphan camp”

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Family member abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

September 2016

The last time Imamhusen’s father spoke with his 11 years old son and his twin brother, Imamhesen Memetrasul, was August 2016 over a phone call. The father, living in Kyrgyzstan, remembers the words from that last call he received from his children: “They called me saying, ‘Dad you should come, otherwise they will detain us’.” Their father moved abroad for work and believes that the police were threatening the family because he left Xinjiang. When interviewed, he told Amnesty International: “I think, yes, they disappeared because I didn’t return [to Xinjiang]; even if I would go back, they would still detain my family and myself.” After that call, the father lost contact with his family. The last update he received was in 2017. Since then, he has tried in many ways to gather information from the Chinese authorities about his family’s whereabouts, with no success. He added, “I have no idea where they may be.”

Personal Details

His father describes Imamhusen and his twin brother, Imamhesen, as very smart and good at school, mature despite their young age and interested in sport. He also remembers how close they were to him when he was still living in Xinjiang. He said: “They used to be my boys, we were really close to each other. We used to go to the restaurants… They had a lot of appetite! They put their hands straight into the pot, they had crazy appetite.” He ended the interview saying: “I just want … to see them again.” Unfortunately, Imamhusen and Imamhesen’s mother, Nurmangul Ebey, was reportedly detained in September 2016.

Date of Birth

12 October 2005

Ethnicity

Uzbek

Hometown

Kargilik, Kashgar province

Profession

Student

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Yiliyasijiang Reheman

依力亚斯江.热合曼

Assumed Location

Internment camp or in prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Studying in Egypt

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

1 September 2017

Yiliyasijiang was a student when he was deported to China from Egypt in July 2017, and there has since been no information about his whereabouts or condition. His wife now in Turkey believes that he might have been sentenced to prison, as she heard that some other Uyghurs who were returned to Xinjiang were sentenced to a few years’ imprisonment. She thinks it is also possible that he might have been detained in an internment camp in Xinjiang, which the Chinese government claims are providing “vocational training”.

Personal Details

Twenty-five days after Yiliyasijiang was detained by Egyptian authorities, his wife gave birth to their second child. She has expressed heartbreak that her husband was not there for this major life milestone.
Yiliyasijiang’s father-in-law, Abuduaini Kadier, is also detained.

Yiliyasijiang likes football.

Date of Birth

26 June 1993

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kashgar

Profession

Student

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Miradil Ablet

米尔阿迪力.阿布来提

Assumed Location

Prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

His brother in Canada did not go back to China when he was asked to in 2017

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

August 2017

Miradil was taken away from his parents’ home in Kashgar in August 2017. His brother now in the Netherlands was unable to obtain any information about Miradil’s whereabouts until the Chinese embassy in the Netherlands responded to an inquiry by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 2021, saying that Miradil had been convicted of criminal offences, that he pleaded guilty and that his trial had been fair. However, no official information about the trial or the crimes and evidence against Miradil have ever been published. His brother told Amnesty International that he believes Miradil was arrested because another brother in Canada did not go back to China when he was asked to.

Personal Details

Miradil is good at maths and computers. He enjoys playing football and spending time with family. He was reportedly healthy when he was taken away.

Date of Birth

21 January 1981

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kashgar

Profession

Worked in a telecomm office

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Anarqan Qanatbek

阿那尔汗 · 卡那提白克

Assumed Location

No.7 Women’s Prison, Ghulja (Yining) County

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Praying five times a day

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“Disturbing the social order”

Last Contact

30 December 2007

Anarqan Qanatbek, an ethnic Kazakh, was convicted of disturbing the social order and sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment in August 2018. Her family believes she was arrested merely because she was praying five times a day at her home. Currently held in No.7 Women’s Prison in Ghulja (Yining County), Anarqan had previously been detained in an internment camp for eight months. Noting that she did not have access to any lawyer during her trial, her family expressed their concern about Anarqan’s wellbeing as she was previously diagnosed with several medical conditions including hypertension, cerebral infarction, and coronary heart disease.

Personal Details

Anarqan loves spending time with and taking care of her grandchildren. Anarqan also liked reading books a lot. Currently 69 years old, she is often hospitalized due to several severe conditions she is suffering from.

Date of Birth

10 January 1952

Ethnicity

Kazakh

Hometown

Ghulja (Yining) County

Profession

Housewife

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Nighmat Omarhoja

尼依买提.吾买尔

Assumed Location

Boz Prison, Ghulja (Yining)

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Religious practices

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

29 August 2019

Nighmat was taken away by police in August 2019, and his family believes it is because he is an ethnic Uzbek practicing Muslim. His brother living in Australia learned in 2020 that Nighmat was subsequently convicted of criminal offences and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. However, no official information about a trial, crimes or evidence against him has ever been made public.
According to a trusted source, Nighmat is being held in a prison in Ghulja City (Yining) but his family members in Xinjiang are not able to communicate with him.

Personal Details

He likes travelling and has been to several places in China. Nighmat underwent heart surgery in 2012.

Date of Birth

21 April 1965

Ethnicity

Uzbek

Hometown

Ghulja (Yining)

Profession

Worked at the Department of Water Management

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Suppiyem Tochti

Assumed Location

Internment camp

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Travelling abroad, contact with family abroad, religious practices

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

After 2015

Suppiyem went missing after April 2015, after a trip to Turkey to visit family members and relatives, including her granddaughter. In November-December 2019, the granddaughter and her family living in Germany were told by relatives still in China that Suppiyem was in an internment camp. According to her granddaughter, before visiting Turkey, Suppiyem received a threatening call from a police officer who said: “If you don’t come back from Turkey, we will take your son.” Once back in China, Suppiyem cut off all communication with the family abroad. Her granddaughter recalled her saying: “Don’t call me anymore, we are fine here.” The granddaughter’s family does not have any official documents on Suppiyem’s case and has now lost all connections with relatives in China. The family is worried about Suppiyem’s health, because she suffers from diabetes and heart problems.

Personal Details

Suppiyem, now about 60 years old, is a hard-working woman who often travelled on business. She owns a shop selling clothes, hats and assorted items in Shahyar. Her granddaughter remembers her as always busy with family and business, adding: “She didn’t have an easy life.” She also recalls her grandmother’s surprise when she saw how people could talk without restrictions in Turkey. “She [Suppiyem] was saying, ‘Oh, you can speak so loud here, so freely here.’ She wasn’t used to it.”
One of Suppiyem’s daughters, Hepisem Mehmet, also went missing after the same trip to Turkey and might have been sent to an internment camp sometime between 2016 and 2017.

Date of Birth

Unknown

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Xayar (Shayar), Aksu prefecture

Profession

Businesswoman

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Mamat Ablat

阿卜来提 · 麦麦提

Assumed Location

Prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Religious practices, contact with family abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

Early 2018

Mamat was detained in early 2018 and later sentenced to 16–17 years in prison, according to his brother who now lives in France. Family members in China told Mamat’s brother that Mamat may have been detained for his religious practices. The family may have some official documents about Mamat’s case, but his brother lost contact with them and is unable to gather further details. He contacted the Chinese authorities, but they did not provide any information and instead asked him to go back to Xinjiang.
According to his brother, Mamat was also detained in 2015 and sent to a detention centre because “he was praying in others’ home during Ramadan”.
Mamat had a mental health condition, but his health improved with some medications. “He never spent an hour in [the] same place. He liked to move around. I cannot imagine [him] in prison, in [the] same place the whole time. I’m very worried about him,” Mamat’s brother told Amnesty International.

Personal Details

Mamat is married and has a daughter. His brother described him as sociable and helpful: “He liked to move around to help people; people are always calling him.” Mamat is a very active person and does not like to stay indoors for long.
The husband of Mamat’s niece, Akber Hushur, is also in prison with a 17 years’ sentence.

Date of Birth

16 January 1980

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Tuo Feng Lu, Onsu county (Wensu)

Profession

Self-employed

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Mirzat Taher

木里扎提.塔依尔

Assumed Location

District Detention Centre, Iwirghol (Yizhou)

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Travelling to Turkey

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“Organizing, leading and participating in terrorist organization”

Last Contact

May 2020

Mirzat was reportedly sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment for “organizing, leading and participating in terrorist organization” on 1 April 2021. Family members who attended the trial said no concrete evidence against Mirzat was presented, and neither his lawyer nor family members received either the indictment or verdict. His wife, now based in Australia, believes that he was imprisoned because he had travelled to Turkey twice in 2014 and 2015.
Mirzat was taken away in April 2017 when he and his wife attempted to travel to Australia. He was later put into an internment camp and released in May 2019. However, he went missing again in May 2020, and the Hami Public Security Bureau confirmed in October 2020 that Mirzat was arrested.

Personal Details

Mirzat has kidney stones and stomach problems. He is a family-oriented person and enjoys being with his family and others he loves.
Mirzat was granted Australian permanent resident status in July 2020.

Date of Birth

23 March 1991

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Urumqi

Profession

Tour guide

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Sanigul Memet

Assumed Location

Prison, Kona Sheher County, Kashgar

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Husband was detained

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

Early 2016

Sanigul is a housewife and farmer from Konasheher County. According to Sanigul’s cousin, now in the USA, Sanigul was taken away in early 2016 along with her husband. Her cousin told Amnesty International that it is unclear whether they are now in an internment camp or a prison. Her mother tearfully told Sanigul’s cousin in a call that her grandchildren were desperately looking for their mother. No sentence or charges have been revealed by the authorities. Sanigul has several family members held in detention facilities, including her cousin Nejibulla Ablet.

Personal Details

Sanigul’s cousin told Amnesty International that Sanigul is a good friend from childhood. The family used to visit Sanigul’s village in summer and spend weeks and months with the cousins.

Date of Birth

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Konasheher County (Shufu)

Profession

Housewife, farmer

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Abdurishid Hoshur

阿布都热西提 · 吾守尔

Assumed Location

Prison, Urumqi

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Ethnicity, being wealthy, sons studying abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“Supporting terrorism”

Last Contact

November-December 2017

The last time Abdurishid spoke with his brother was in April 2013. Family members living outside of China who had contact with other family members in Xinjiang later told the brother that Abdurishid was detained in November-December 2017 and given a 17-year sentence on charges of “supporting terrorism”. Abdurishid’s brother, now living in Canada, told Amnesty International that he believes that the real reasons for Abdurishid’s imprisonment are related to the fact that he is a famous Uyghur businessman whose two children studied abroad. His daughter, currently living in Turkey, thinks that before being jailed, he was held in an internment facility for allegedly sending money to family members in Egypt. Before being detained, Abdurishid asked his daughter not to return to China when she was at university on a Turkish scholarship programme. In 2020, the Chinese authorities informed Abdurishid’s family that he had been tried. The family has no information as to whether Abdurishid was granted a fair trial and had access to a lawyer of his choice. The Chinese authorities also froze all his assets. Abdurishid’s brother does not have any official documents relating to the charges against Abdurishid, and he believes that the authorities have not shared anything with family members in Xinjiang, including not confirming the prison where Abdurishid is held.

Personal Details

Abdurishid is married, has five children and, when his father passed away, he took on the role of head of the family given he was the eldest brother in the family. Abdurishid is described by his brother as a person of high morality, well-know and well-respected by the community. He is passionate about Uyghur culture and was the co-owner of Miraj, a famous restaurant in Urumqi where traditional Uyghur dishes were served. The restaurant was closed down after his arrest and some of the staff were taken away. Abdurishid’s oldest son, Rizayidin Abdurishid, is also in a detention facility with a 15-year sentence.

Date of Birth

9 June 1958

Ethnicity

63

Hometown

Artux

Profession

Businessman, restaurant co-owner

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Sajidugul Ayup

Assumed Location

Prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Contact with family member abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

October 2017

According to her brother, Sajidugul was detained in an internment camp in October 2017.
He found out about her detention through friends still living in China at that time. In May 2021 Sajidugul’s brother, interviewed by Amnesty International, was told by a credible source that Sajidugul has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for “inciting terrorism”. He told Amnesty International that the authorities forced Sajidugul to denounce him publicly in 2016. “She had no choice,” he explained. “They forced her to say how she feels sorry for me, how bad I am.” Sajidugul’s brother lives in Norway and has been vocal in denouncing the human rights violations suffered by Uyghurs. He told Amnesty International that he believes Sajidugul was detained because of his activism. He said: “The goal is stop me from talking to media and human rights organizations. The Chinese state security [police] contacted me. They told me, ‘If you don’t stop doing it, you will put your family in danger’.”
It is unclear whether Sajidugul has access to family members, a lawyer of her choice or the medications she needs because she suffers from Hepatitis B.

Personal Details

Sajidugul likes reading and swimming and is described by her brother as “sociable, helpful and really feminist”. She is a teacher and she used to take her student on educational trips about the Uyghur history. She is married and has two children.
One of Sajidugul’s brothers, Erkin Ayup, has also reportedly been sentenced to prison.

Date of Birth

13 January 1979

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kashgar

Profession

High school geography teacher

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Ajiranmu Rouzi

阿吉热木.肉孜

Assumed Location

Prison, Ghulja (Yining)

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Daughter abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

June 2017

Ajiranmu was taken away in June 2017. Later in 2017, the police called Ajiranmu’s daughter in Ajiranmu’s presence and asked for the details of her daughter’s study in Turkey. Ajiranmu’s daughter, who is currently living in Norway, learned from a source in February 2020 that her mother had been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 2019. However, no official information about a trial, crimes or evidence against Ajiranmu has ever been made public.

Personal Details

Ajiranmu loves reading and travelling. She always worked to give her daughter a better life. She underwent surgery before she was taken away.

Date of Birth

23 January 1970

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Aksu

Profession

Accountant at the Bureau of Culture and Sports in Aksu

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Ehet Sulaiman

艾海提 · 苏来曼

Assumed Location

Internment camp or in prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Family members abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

February 2018

Ehet, a long-time educator from Tengritagh Township in Kumul (Hami) Prefecture, was detained at the beginning of 2018, as confirmed by Radio Free Asia. It is unclear though whether Ehet is being held in an internment camp or in prison. The family member interviewed by Amnesty International left China many years ago for the USA and lost all connections with the family still in China but tried to find information about Ehet through other family members living abroad and friends still resident in Xinjiang. They were the ones first confirming that Ehet was taken away by domestic security police at the beginning of 2018.
The official reasons for the detention are unknown, but the person Amnesty International interviewed believes Ehet has been detained because he has family members abroad that work on issues concerning Uyghurs.

Personal Details

Ehet is a teacher and before being detained he was the director of the Tengritagh Township Teaching District in Kumul. He enjoys sports, gardening and housebuilding. He is described as sociable and very responsible towards his family. He is married and has two children.

Date of Birth

April 1963

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kumul (Hami)

Profession

Middle school principal and teacher

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Yusupjan Abiden

玉苏圃江 · 阿布丁

Assumed Location

Prison, Tumxuk

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Religious practices

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

April 2017

Yusupjan, a businessman from Artux, was sent to prison in April 2017, according to a cousin and her daughter, who were interviewed by Amnesty International from their home in the USA. They found out about Yusupjan’s detention the same year from other relatives who live abroad and that have connections with the family still in Xinjiang. They believe that Yusupjan was detained for his religious practices, but they were not able to confirm any other details of his case and have no official documents, as they have now lost contact with those relatives. They also believe Yusupjan was imprisoned, possibly for his religious practices, for 18 months between 2000 and 2002, during which time they say he was tortured, leading to the loss of an ear.

Personal Details

Yusupjan is a former religious teacher who later became a businessman. The family members that Amnesty International interviewed remember him as very respected, loved by his students and particularly helpful towards others.
They also added that he is married and has one son and two daughters, and that his wife spent two years in an internment camp.
Other family members have also been detained: Sadir Ali, sent to prison probably in May 2019 with a 20-year sentence, and Abiden Eyyubhaji has reportedly been held in an internment camp since 2017.

Date of Birth

1 April 1966

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Artux

Profession

Former religiuos teacher, businessman

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Mahira Yakub

依拉玛 ‧ 甫亚库

Assumed Location

Prison, Ghulja (Yining)

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Ethnicity, transfer of money to parents abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“Giving material support to terrorist activity”

Last Contact

September 2020

Mahira has been held in the Yining Detention Centre since November 2020 for “giving material support to terrorist activity” after transferring money to her parents in Australia in 2013. She has had no access to her family or a lawyer of her choice. Mahira’s cousin, now in Sweden, told Amnesty International the money was intended for her parents to buy a house in Australia. In February 2021, the Chinese authorities confirmed Mahira had been sentenced to six years and six months in prison, but it is unclear whether Mahira was granted a fair trial. They also confiscated her savings.
Before being detained in prison, Mahira was held in an internment camp from March to December 2018, where she suffered from a liver damage requiring hospitalization for three months. It is unclear whether she still needs medication for this condition and, if so, whether she can access adequate medical treatment while in prison.

Personal Details

Mahira is a hard-working single mother who loves spending time with her children. Despite having three jobs to ensure an adequate income for the family, Mahira always managed to have some free time for her kids so that she could teach them the importance of diversity and family values. They used to love reading books and watching TV series together.

Date of Birth

5 October 1977

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Ghulja (Yining)

Profession

Insurance company employee, Mandarin tutor

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Maimaitiabiti Zaiding

麦麦提阿比提 · 再丁

Assumed Location

Prison, Changji city

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Family member studying abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

April 2017

Maimaitiabiti is a businessman from Kashgar who went missing at the end of April 2017 after being told by police that he could be prosecuted if a family member then studying in Malaysia failed to return to Xinjiang.

In September 2020, the person interviewed by Amnesty International and based in the USA managed to get confirmation, through a connection close to Maimaitiabiti’s family still in Xinjiang, that Maimaitiabiti is in prison with a seven-year sentence. It is believed that he is being detained for having a family member living and studying abroad. The person Amnesty International spoke with believes Maimaitiabiti spent time in an internment camp before being sent to prison and doubts whether there was a fair trial or whether Maimaitiabiti has had access to a lawyer of his choice.

Personal Details

Maimaitiabiti enjoys reading and he used to do a lot of charity work in his community. He is described as introvert but really kind.

Date of Birth

22 February 1954

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kashgar

Profession

Businessman

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Tajigul Qadir

塔吉古丽 ·卡迪尔

Assumed Location

Prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Family members abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“Might think of preparing terrorist activities”

Last Contact

End 2017

Tajigul was a housewife from Kashgar before she went missing in 2017 along with her husband, Abdurashid Tohti , and her youngest son,  Memeteli Abdurashid. Family friends confirmed this in 2018 after checking that their house was empty. After some social media coverage in June 2020, the Chinese embassy in Ankara called a family member living in Turkey and said that on 13 December 2017 Tajigul was sentenced to 13 years in prison for “having potentially thought of promoting terrorist activities”. The person interviewed by Amnesty International and based in the USA believes the reasons  behind this sentence are different  and are related to the fact that Tajigul’s two daughters were living in Turkey at that time. It is not clear whether there was a trial and no evidence or any other official documents were shared with the family.

Personal Details

Tajigul used to help everybody and is well-respected by all her neighbours. She is described as lovely and as a great cook. Tajigul loves spending her time with her children and grandchildren.

Unfortunately, it is believed that her other son, Ametjan Abdurashid, is also in prison with a seven7-year sentence.

Date of Birth

September 1969

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kashgar

Profession

Housewife

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Akber Hushur

艾克白尔 · 吾舒尔

Assumed Location

Prison, near Urumqi

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Violation of birth control policy

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

May 2017

Akber was taken away in May 2017 while he was working in his bakery shop and later sent to prison. Akber’s uncle, who Amnesty International interviewed from his current residence in France, only found out about Akber’s detention and his 17-year prison sentence in December 2017, when he was told about it by family members still living in Xinjiang. They also told him that Akber was able to send a letter to his wife from prison in September 2017 in which he asked her to take care of their children and not to worry about him. Akber’s uncle has lost connection with the family in Xinjiang since 2019 and has thus been unable to gather any further information on Akber’s situation. He believes Akber is being detained solely for being self-employed as this is considered “dangerous”, and for violating China’s birth control policy, despite having already paid a fine imposed by the Chinese authorities in 2015.

Personal Details

His uncle remembers Akber as very religious. “He never missed a prayer,” he added.
Akber is married and has three daughters and one son. According to the last information that Abker’s uncle has from December 2019, Akber’s wife was sent to an internment camp in November 2017, later released and sent in January 2019 to work for a textile company far from where their children live, and only allowed to return home once every 50 days.
Unfortunately, the brother of Akber’s uncle, Mamat Ablat, is also in prison with a 16–17-year sentence.

Date of Birth

1982

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Onsu county (Wensu)

Profession

Baker

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Fatima Ablikim

帕提码.阿布力可木

Assumed Location

Prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“gathering a crowd to disturb public order and picking quarrels and provoking trouble”

Last Contact

May 2017

Fatima’s uncle has not been able to contact his family members living in Xinjiang since May 2017 and has been protesting in the Netherlands on behalf of them and other Uyghurs since June 2018. Through an inquiry from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Chinese embassy in the Netherlands about his family members in 2020, he learned that Fatima and four other family members were imprisoned, including Mijit Gheni.
Fatima was sentenced to six years and six months in prison in March 2019 for “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. No other information about the case of Fatima was provided by the Chinese authorities when responding to an inquiry from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2020.

Personal Details

Fatima was a housewife from Uqturpan County, Aksu Prefecture.

Date of Birth

1989

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Uqturpan (Wushi) County, Aksu Prefecture

Profession

Housewife

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Mahmud Hamdullah

买合木提 · 艾木都拉

Assumed Location

Prison, Kumul (Hami)

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Answering a question on religion without authorization

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

April 2017

Mahmud’s daughter, currently based in Turkey, has been unable to contact her father since April 2017. Mahmud was imprisoned for six years in 1997 for being a “separatist”, reportedly because he was once visited by a person who had “politically incorrect” opinions. In 2005, Mahmud was reportedly sentenced to two years in prison simply for tutoring Arabic and possessing Arabic books at home. In 2014, some policemen told him to go to the police station and subsequently arbitrarily detained him in a building along with many other Uyghurs for a year and half. Mahmud was then taken to Turpan, where he was again sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, reportedly because he answered a religious question about Wahhabism that police told him he had no authority to answer. According to a friend of Mahmud’s daughter, he has again been sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment, presumably in Kumul.
Mahmud’s wife, Zuhre Suphi, is also held in a detention facility.

Personal Details

Mahmud loves reading books and is very enthusiastic about personal development. Mahmud also likes learning and teaching foreign languages. He studied English in prison and now is at an essentially native level. Mahmud also speaks fluent Mandarin.

Date of Birth

3 May 1968

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kumul (Hami)

Profession

Real estate investor

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Shattyq Daulet

恰特合·达吾列提

Assumed Location

Prison, Kuytun

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Travelling abroad, charity work

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

May 2018

According to Shattyq’s family member interviewed by Amnesty International, Shattyq was detained because of his travels to Kazakhstan and charity work, even though that work was authorized by the Chinese authorities. In May 2018, Shattyq was sentenced to 19 years in prison despite allegedly never having access to a lawyer or seeing the evidence against him. This family member understands Shattyq was detained along with other people connected to a particular imam; all have reportedly been charged with “inciting ethnic hatred, inciting ethnic discrimination, and gathering a crowd to disturb public order”.
According to his relative’s testimony, Shattyq’s family had been able to visit him in prison once a month, but now only sporadic calls seem to be allowed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Shattyq suffers from leukaemia, but he has so far not been allowed to leave the detention facility for adequate treatment in hospital.

Personal Details

Shattyq is described as outgoing and open. He is married with a daughter and a son, who were still babies at the time of his arrest. He used to be a businessman and was the only person providing an income for his family.

Date of Birth

2 December 1988

Ethnicity

Kazakh

Hometown

Chapchal county (Chábùchá'ěr Xībó Zìzhìxiàn)

Profession

Businessman

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Maiwulani Nuermaimaiti

买吾拉尼.努尔买买提

Assumed Location

Prison, Shihezi City

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Travelling to Turkey to study Turkish

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“Separatist activities”

Last Contact

January 2017

Maiwulani was sentenced to nine years in prison for “separatism” in August 2017, reportedly without any known trial. Maiwulani was taken away in January 2017, and his sister, now based in New Zealand, only found out about the sentencing in December 2019 through an official response that the Chinese authorities provided to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. No evidence against Maiwulani has ever been made public, but his sister believes he was charged merely for having visited Turkey to study Turkish between 2012 and 2014. Maiwulani’s sister recently learned that he is currently being held in a prison in Shihezi City.

Personal Details

Maiwulani is a physically and mentally healthy person with a good sense of humour. He helps his mother with shopping and gardening; enjoys family time, playing with his son and spending time with his wife.

Date of Birth

5 June 1986

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Bole City

Profession

Internet technician

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Abudukahaer Aibaidila

阿布都喀哈尔.艾白迪拉

Assumed Location

Internment camp, Wulabo, Urumqi county

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

Late 2016

In late 2016, Abudukahaer was working outside his hometown Supila Village, Arslanbag Town, when police in his hometown asked him to return and sign documents. He went missing from that time, and his brother living in the Netherlands has since received no official information about his whereabouts and condition. He suspects Abudukahaer is in an internment camp in Wulabo, about six miles from the southern suburbs of Urumqi. Abudukahaer’s relatives have no idea why he was targeted.

Personal Details

He likes sports and reading. He has two sons and two daughters.

Date of Birth

25 February 1984

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Supila Village, Arslanbag Town, Kashgar Prefecture

Profession

Imam, worked in agriculture and later in a furniture factory

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Hawahan Osman

阿瓦汗 · 吾斯曼

Assumed Location

Prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Violation of birth control policy, husband abroad, teaching reading Qur’an in Arabic

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

March 2017

The last time Hawahan spoke with her sister living in Sweden was early 2016. At that time, Hawahan was already experiencing problems with the police and being forced to attend daily Chinese ceremonies and celebrations. Her sister says Hawahan complied with the Chinese authorities since she was waiting for her passport to join her husband abroad. However, her passport applications were always rejected, and she was detained in March 2017. First, Hawahan was sent to an internment camp and then to prison with a 13–15-year sentence. Her sister learnt about the sentence from family members in China, but she is unable to gather any other information.
Hawahan’s sister thinks the arrest may have been for violation of the birth control policy, having her husband abroad and teaching others to read the Qur’an in Arabic. Hawahan’s sister also added: “[My sister is in prison] because she’s a brave person, loyal to her identity. She follows traditions. She dares to do that in that environment.”

Personal Details

Hawahan is described by her sister as smart, pretty and with a very good memory. She is strong and likes physical labour. She has four children, two of whom were reportedly forcibly taken from home and enrolled by the Chinese authorities in a boarding school.
Her sister is particularly worried about Hawahan, who has already been through really hard times in the past. Before being detained, Hawahan was often alone because her husband used to work abroad for some companies in the Middle East. When he went back to visit her, she had to hide with him and their children as the Chinese authorities were looking for him. Unfortunately, Hawahan’s brother, Ershidin Osman, is in prison with a 16 years’ sentence.

Date of Birth

15 June 1985

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kelpin county

Profession

Tailor

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Adil Hamudun

阿迪力.哈米丁

Assumed Location

Prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“gathering a crowd to disturb public order”

Last Contact

May 2017

Adil is Mijit Gheni’s brother-in-law. He was sentenced to three years in May 2019 for “gathering a crowd to disturb public order”. No other information about his case was provided by the Chinese authorities when responding to an inquiry from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2020.

Personal Details

Adil was a teacher before being arrested.

Date of Birth

1978

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kalpin (Keping) County, Aksu Prefecture

Profession

Teacher

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Saule Meltai

萨吾列 · 米勒太

Assumed Location

Internment camp, Qinghe County

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Travelling abroad, preservation of Uyghur culture, not drinking alcohol

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“Potentially affecting other people who are currently at a stable condition”

Last Contact

2017

Saule’s husband, now in Kazakhstan, told Amnesty International that Saule was detained for investigation on 11 January 2018 for “being classified as belonging to other untrustworthy persons who may influence stability” by the Qinggil County Party Committee, according to a screenshot of the notice of detention and investigation. Later, she was taken to an internment camp where she spent around nine months. In May 2018, Saule fell while taking a shower in the camp. Her lower body was seriously injured, and she was forced to remain in bed for four months without receiving any medical treatment. She was sent to class every day in a wheelchair. In September 2018, Saule became very ill and was sent to the People’s Hospital of Xinjiang for emergency surgery. At the hospital, she continued to “study” under tight surveillance. Apart from making trips to the hospital for medical treatment, the police have kept her under surveillance. In early 2021, Saule’s family received a phone call from the Qinggil People’s Procuratorate warning them not to campaign publicly for Saule’s release, otherwise they will never see her again. Her husband and family members in China are unable to make contact with her and do not know where she is.

Personal Details

Saule likes dancing, driving, eating and nice clothes. She has a kind heart and cares about family and older people. It was her dream to move to Kazakhstan to be reunited with her family.

Date of Birth

28 November 1972

Ethnicity

Kazakh

Hometown

Qinghe Zhen, Qinggil County, Altay Prefecture

Profession

Nurse

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Sadir Ali

沙迪克 · 艾力

Assumed Location

Prison, Tumxuk

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Ethnicity, religious practices

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

June-July 2018

“If you want your father to be safe, you should cooperate with us and answer all our questions.” This is what the police told Sadir’s daughter in September 2018 after he was detained in June 2018. For months, a police officer called Sadir’s daughter to try to gather information about her and the rest of her family living in the USA. The calls stopped when she found out from family members in China that her father had been sent to prison, probably in May 2019 with a 20-years sentence. It is unclear whether Sadir received a fair trial or had access to a lawyer of his choice. Prior to being in prison, Sadir had been detained in a camp from June-July 2018 to May 2019. Sadir’s daughter has now lost connection with relatives still living in China and is unable to gather further information about her father. The official reasons for the arrest are unknown and his daughter told Amnesty International: “I couldn’t think of any reasons. Maybe just because he is Uyghur and Muslim.”

Personal Details

Sadir has been the owner of a real estate company since 2015 and is described by his daughter as very religious, quiet, hard-working and attached to his family. She added: “He spent all his time with family. He paid for my studies, my living, [my and my sister’s] school. He has been working all the time.”
Other family members have unfortunately also been detained. The uncle of Sadir’s wife, Abiden Eyyubhaji, a 91-year-old religious scholar, was reportedly sent to an internment camp in 2016, and one of his wife’s cousins, Yusupjan Abiden, a 55-year-old former religious teacher at the Islamic Scripture College of Xinjiang in Urumqi, is in prison since 2017.

Date of Birth

1 September 1971

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Artux

Profession

Real estate company owner

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Abuduaini Kadier

阿布都艾尼.卡德尔

Assumed Location

Municipal Prison, Ghulja (Yining)

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Travelling to Egypt in 2016

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

July 2017

Abuduaini, a Uyghur businessman who was secretly tried and sentenced to seven years in prison, is believed to have been detained in connection with a 2016 holiday he took to Egypt in which he paid for several other Uyghurs’ air fare. His daughter now in Turkey told Amnesty International that no information about her father’s condition or even the charges against him have been shared with the family.

Personal Details

Abuduaini likes travelling and spending time with family. He is the father-in-law of Yiliyasijiang Reheman, also detained.

Date of Birth

5 July 1966

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kashgar

Profession

Businessman

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Turghun Hamudun

吐尔洪.阿木东

Assumed Location

Prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

“gathering a crowd to disturb public order and inciting ethnic hatred and discrimination”

Last Contact

May 2017

Turghun is Mijit Gheni’s brother-in-law. He was sentenced to 16 years and six months in May 2019 for “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” and “inciting ethnic hatred and discrimination”. No other information about his case was provided by the Chinese authorities when responding to an inquiry from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2020.

Personal Details

Turghun was a teacher from Kalpin County, Aksu Prefecture.

Date of Birth

1976

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Kalpin (Keping) County, Aksu Prefecture

Profession

Teacher

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Hayrigul Niyaz

海日古丽 · 尼牙孜

Assumed Location

Internment camp

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Travelling and studying abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

June-July 2017

Hayrigul’s brother told Amnesty International that he last saw his sister at an airport in Turkey on 27 October 2015. Around June or July 2017, Hayrigul was detained by the Chinese authorities and taken from Urumqi to Toksu. It is unclear whether she is now in an internment camp or a prison. According to her brother now based in Germany, she was detained for having travelled and studied abroad. It appears she has had no access to a lawyer and that the Chinese authorities have not provided any official documents about her status. In April 2020, hoping to receive information about his sister, her brother spoke to some family members still in Xinjiang, but the call was arranged by a Chinese police officer who asked him for information in exchange for updates about his sister. When the brother refused, the officer told him: “You need to cooperate if you want to see your mom [again].” Since refusing, he has not been able to speak to his family again.

Personal Details

Hayrigul loves reading, dancing, singing, spending time with her friends, travelling and skiing. She can speak Uyghur, Mandarin, Russian, English and Turkish. After her studies in Turkey, she moved back to China to open her own travel agency.

Date of Birth

28 October 1985

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Toksu (Xinhe), Aksu prefecture

Profession

Travel agency owner

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Qurban Mamut

库尔班 · 木提⻢

Assumed Location

Internment camp

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Having relatives abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

November 2017

Qurban, a writer, journalist and retired journal editor, has not been seen or heard from by his son since November 2017. His son told Amnesty International that in September 2018 a source reported Qurban had been sent to an internment camp. There has since been no information about his whereabouts or condition. His son believes that his residence in the USA is the reason for his father’s detention.

Personal Details

Qurban retired as editor-in-chief of Xinjiang Civilization, a state-controlled Uyghur-language journal that promotes Uyghur culture and history. He designed and completed the building of his “dream home” in Urumqi in 2017. He also enjoys European classical music and Uyghur traditional music.

Date of Birth

1951

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Urumqi

Profession

Writer, journalist and retired journal editor

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Hepisem Mehmet

Assumed Location

Internment camp

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Ethinicity, family members abroad

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

2016-2017

Hepisem’s niece, who lives in Germany, told Amnesty International: “The last time we saw her was in 2015. She was with my grandmother in Turkey for a week. We’ve never spoken or seen her again after the trip.” Her niece believes Hepisem might have been sent to an internment camp sometime between 2016 and 2017 after her trip to Turkey, but she added that she only found out about her detention in 2019 from other relatives abroad still in contact with the family in Xinjiang. That was the last information Hepisem’s niece managed to gather about her aunt and her presumed ongoing detention. The reasons behind Hepisem’s detention are unknown, but her niece believes that she was sent to an internment camp solely because of her ethnicity and the fact that she has relatives living abroad.

Personal Details

Hepisem is a businesswoman who used to run a shop together with her mother. She joined the family business when she was 17 years old after her father died. She has a son who is now about 7–9 years of age. Her niece remembers her aunt as a great cook who loved to prepare meals for the family while they were all reunited in Turkey for the trip organized in 2015.
Hepisem’s mother, Suppiyem Tochti, also went missing after the same trip to Turkey.

Date of Birth

Unknown

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Xayar (Shayar), Aksu prefecture

Profession

Businesswoman

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Musa-eli Abdureyim

Assumed Location

Internment camp or in prison

Suspected Reasons for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Official Reason for Arrest or Detention

Unknown

Last Contact

Early 2016

Musa-eli’s cousin now in the USA told Amnesty International that he learned from a credible source that Musa-eli, a driver from Gulluk Township, Payzawat County, was sentenced in February 2018 after a proceeding that does not appear to have been open to the public. It is unknown if Musa-eli is currently held in an internment facility or in prison. Musa-eli’s cousin has been unable to gather further information about him since November 2018. Musa-eli has several family members held in detention facilities, including his cousin Nejibulla Ablet.

Personal Details

Musa-eli is married. After many years of being a driver, he is sociable and tells good jokes. That came from the fact that he was a driver. His home was in a small village and there was no public transportation between his village and the county.

Date of Birth

1995

Ethnicity

Uyghur

Hometown

Gulluk Township, Payzawat County (Jiashi), Kashgar Prefecture

Profession

Driver, freelancer

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Demand the immediate release of everyone arbitrarily detained

“[Chinese authorities] are looking for any excuse to sentence you” — a detainee’s relative

Ethnic minorities living in Xinjiang have long faced discrimination and persecution. Lawful activities many of us take for granted can be considered a reason to be sent to an internment camp or a prison, where detainees are subjected to a relentless forced indoctrination campaign, physical and psychological torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

President Xi Jinping must immediately release all people arbitrarily detained in internment camps and in prisons in Xinjiang. Sign the petition now and share it with your friends, family, and contacts!

Take Action

“Like we were enemies in a war”

China’s Mass Internment, Torture and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang

Executive Summary

Since 2017, under the guise of a campaign against “terrorism”, the government of China has carried out massive and systematic abuses against Muslims living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang). Far from a legitimate response to the purported terrorist threat, the government’s campaign evinces a clear intent to target parts of Xinjiang’s population collectively on the basis of religion and ethnicity and to use severe violence and intimidation to root out Islamic religious beliefs and Turkic Muslim ethno-cultural practices. The government aims to replace these beliefs and practices with secular state-sanctioned views and behaviours, and, ultimately, to forcibly assimilate members of these ethnic groups into a homogenous Chinese nation possessing a unified language, culture, and unwavering loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

To achieve this political indoctrination and forced cultural assimilation, the government undertook a campaign of arbitrary mass detention. Huge numbers of men and women from predominantly Muslim ethnic groups have been detained. They include hundreds of thousands who have been sent to prisons as well as hundreds of thousands – perhaps 1 million or more – who have been sent to what the government refers to as “training” or “education” centres. These facilities are more accurately described as internment camps. Detainees in these camps are subjected to a ceaseless indoctrination campaign as well as physical and psychological torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

The internment camp system is part of a larger campaign of subjugation and forced assimilation of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The government of China has enacted other far-reaching policies that severely restrict the behaviour of Muslims in Xinjiang. These policies violate multiple human rights, including the rights to liberty and security of person; to privacy; to freedom of movement; to opinion and expression; to thought, conscience, religion, and belief; to participate in cultural life; and to equality and non-discrimination. These violations are carried out in such a widespread and systematic manner that they are now an inexorable aspect of daily life for millions of members of predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

The government of China has taken extreme measures to prevent accurate information about the situation in Xinjiang from being documented, and finding reliable information about life inside the internment camps is particularly difficult. Between October 2019 and May 2021, Amnesty International interviewed dozens of former detainees and other people who were present in Xinjiang since 2017, most of whom had never spoken publicly about their experiences before. The testimonies of former detainees represent a significant portion of all public testimonial evidence gathered about the situation inside the internment camps since 2017.

The evidence Amnesty International has gathered provides a factual basis for the conclusion that the Chinese government has committed at least the following crimes against humanity: imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; torture; and persecution.

Amnesty International interviewed 55 people who had been detained in internment camps and later released. All of them had been arbitrarily detained for what appears to be, by all reasonable standards, entirely lawful conduct; that is, without having committed any internationally recognized criminal offence. The internment camp detention process appears to be operating outside the scope of the Chinese criminal justice system or other domestic law. According to government documents and statements by government officials, applying criminal procedure would be inappropriate because the people in the camps are there “voluntarily” and are not criminals. As demonstrated by the testimonies and other evidence presented in this report, however, attendance in the camps is not voluntary, and conditions in the camps are an affront to human dignity.

Aiman, a government official who participated in mass arrests, told Amnesty how, in late 2017, police took people from their homes without warning, how family members of the detained people reacted, and what the role of government cadres was in the process:

I was there… The police would take people out of their houses… with hands handcuffed behind them, including women… and they put black hoods on them… Nobody could resist. Imagine if all of a sudden a group [of police] enters [your home], cuffs you and puts [a black hood] over your head… It was very sad… [Afterwards] I cried… That night we made 60 arrests… That was just in one district [of many where people were being detained]… Every day they arrested more people.

Individuals Amnesty International interviewed said the reasons they were given for their detention were often not tied to specific acts; rather, detainees were informed that they had been detained because they had been classified as “suspicious” or “untrustworthy” or as a “terrorist” or an “extremist”. When specific acts were mentioned, they generally fell into a few broad categories. One category includes offences related to foreign countries. Numerous former detainees were sent to camps for living, travelling, or studying abroad or for communicating with people abroad. Many were even detained simply for being “connected” with people who lived, travelled, studied, or communicated with people abroad. Another category includes those detained for offences related to using unauthorized software or digital communications technology. Many former detainees were sent to camps for using or having forbidden software applications on their mobile phones. Another common category includes anything related to religion. Former detainees were sent to camps for reasons related to Islamic beliefs or practice, including working in a mosque, praying, having a prayer mat, or possessing a picture or a video with a religious theme.

Analysed in concert with other testimonial and documentary evidence gathered by journalists and other organizations, the testimonial evidence Amnesty International has gathered demonstrates that members of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang were often detained on the basis of what can only be considered “guilt by association”. Many were interned as a result of their relationships, or perceived or alleged relationships, with family, friends, or community members – many, if not most, of whom were themselves not guilty of any internationally recognized criminal offence.

In internment camps, all detainees were subjected to a ceaseless indoctrination campaign as well as physical and psychological torture and other forms of ill-treatment. From the moment they entered a camp, detainees’ lives were extraordinarily regimented. They were stripped of their personal autonomy, with every aspect of their lives being dictated to them. Detainees who deviated from the conduct prescribed by camp authorities – even in the most seemingly innocuous ways – were reprimanded and regularly physically punished, often along with their cellmates.

Detainees had no privacy. They were monitored at all times, including when they ate, slept, and used the toilet. They were forbidden to talk freely with other detainees. When detainees were permitted to speak – to other detainees, guards, or teachers – they were required to speak in Mandarin Chinese, a language many of them, especially older people and those from more rural areas in Xinjiang, did not speak or understand. Detainees were physically punished if they spoke in a language other than Mandarin.

There was insufficient food, water, exercise, healthcare, sanitary and hygienic conditions, fresh air, and exposure to natural light. Detainees had draconian restrictions placed on their ability to urinate and defecate. All detainees were required to “work” one- or two-hour shifts monitoring their cellmates every night. Many former detainees reported that during the first few days, weeks, or sometimes months after arriving at the internment camps, they were forced to do nothing but sit still – often in terribly uncomfortable positions – for nearly the entire day.

A detainee at an internment camp.

At some point after arriving nearly all detainees were subjected to highly regimented classes. The typical schedule included three or four hours of classes after breakfast. Then detainees had lunch and a short “rest”, which often involved sitting still on a stool or with their heads still on their desks. After lunch there was another three or four hours of classes and then dinner, followed by a few hours to sit or kneel on a stool and silently “review” the day’s material or to watch more “educational” videos. At nearly all times during classes, detainees were required to look straight ahead and not to speak with their classmates. Classes often involved memorizing and reciting “red” songs – that is, revolutionary songs that praise the CCP and the People’s Republic of China.

Teaching Chinese was a primary objective of the “education” that detainees received in the camps. In addition to language classes, most former detainees reported attending some combination of history, law, and ideology classes or, as many former detainees referred to it, “political education”. These classes focused largely on forcibly indoctrinating detainees about the “evils” of Islam and about how prosperous, powerful, and “benevolent” China, the CCP, and President Xi Jinping are. Yerulan, a former detainee, told Amnesty he believed the political education classes were structured to prevent detainees from having and practising their religion:

I think the purpose [of the classes] was to destroy our religion and to assimilate us… They said that we couldn’t say ‘as-salamu alaykum’ and that if we were asked what our ethnicity was we should say ‘Chinese’… They said that you could not go to Friday prayers… And that it was not Allah who gave you all, it was Xi Jinping. You must not thank Allah; you must thank Xi Jinping for everything.

Detainees were questioned or interrogated regularly. They were also frequently required to write letters of “confession” or “self-criticism”. In addition to confessing one’s “crimes”, self-criticism entailed describing in writing what the detainee had done wrong, explaining that the education they were receiving enabled them to recognize the error of their ways and “transform” their thinking, expressing gratitude to the government for this education, and promising not to return to their old habits.

Every former camp detainee Amnesty International interviewed was tortured or subjected to other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (in this report referred to as “torture or other ill-treatment”) during their internment. Torture and other ill-treatment are constitutive elements of life in the internment camps. The torture and other ill-treatment that detainees experience in the camps fall into two broad categories.

The first category included the physical and non-physical (that is, mental or psychological) torture and other ill-treatment experienced by all detainees as a result of the cumulative effects of daily life in the camps. The combination of these physical and non-physical measures, in conjunction with the total loss of control and personal autonomy in the camps, is likely to cause mental and physical suffering severe enough to constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

The second category of torture and other ill-treatment included physical torture and other ill-treatment that occurred during interrogations or as punishment for misbehaviour by specific detainees. Torture methods used during interrogations and as punishment included beatings, electric shocks, stress positions, the unlawful use of restraints (including being locked in a tiger chair), sleep deprivation, being hung from a wall, being subjected to extremely cold temperatures, and solitary confinement. Interrogations usually lasted an hour or more; punishments were often much longer.

Amnesty International interviewed many former detainees who were tortured or subjected to other ill-treatment during interrogations or punishments in internment camps. Amnesty also interviewed many former detainees who witnessed the torture or other ill-treatment of other detainees or who spoke with other detainees – usually their cellmates – who informed them that they had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated during interrogations or as punishment.

Former detainees described a broadly consistent pattern of treatment of detainees by staff and officials in the camps. Some of this treatment reflected patterns of torture and other ill-treatment that Chinese security forces have carried out in Xinjiang and other parts of China for decades. Mansur, a farmer, described to Amnesty how he was tortured multiple times in two camps during his time in detention – both during an interrogation and during multiple punishment sessions. He described his interrogation session:

Two guards took me from the cell and dropped me off [at the room where I was interrogated]. Two men were inside… [They asked what I did in Kazakhstan,] ‘Did you pray there? What do your parents do?’ I said I only stayed with family, that I took care of livestock, and that I didn’t do anything illegal… they asked me about mosque and praying… If I told them I had been praying, I had heard that I would get sentenced for 20 or 25 years. So I told them I never prayed. Then they became upset. They said, ‘All that time with livestock, you became an animal too!’ Then they hit me with a chair until it broke… I fell to the floor. I almost fainted… Then they put me on the chair again. They said, ‘this guy hasn’t changed yet, he needs to stay [in the camp] longer’.

Amnesty International documented one account of a death in an internment camp caused by torture. Madi told Amnesty he witnessed the torture of a cellmate who he later learned died from the effects of the torture. Madi said the man was made to sit in a tiger chair in the middle of their cell. The cellmates were made to watch him sit there, restrained and immobilized, for three days, and were expressly forbidden to help him.

[The man] was in our room for more than two months… he was made to sit in a tiger chair. [I think the man was being punished for pushing a guard.]… They brought the chair into our room… They told us that if we helped him then we would sit in the chair… It was an iron chair… his arms were cuffed and chained. Legs were chained as well. His body was tied to the back of the chair… Two [cuffs] were locked around his wrists and legs… A rubber thing attached to the ribs to make the person [sit] up straight… at some point we could see his testicles. He would [urinate and defecate] in the chair. He was in the chair for three nights… He died after he [was taken out of the cell]. We found out through [people] in the cell.

Most of the detainees interviewed by Amnesty were in the camps for between nine and 18 months. The process to determine whether detainees were released from camps and sent home is not well understood, including by many detainees. Like the process surrounding the initial detention and transfer to the internment camp, much of the release process appeared to operate outside the scope of the Chinese criminal justice system or other domestic law. There was a total absence of any transparent criteria or legal assistance and protection. Nothing that former detainees experienced during the time leading up to their release indicated any regard for the fairness and due process required by the gravity of deciding individuals’ fates. Detainees who were released were forced to sign a document that forbade them from speaking with anybody – especially journalists and foreign nationals – about what they experienced in the camp. Former detainees were informed that they would be interned again if they violated this prohibition, as would members of their families.

After being released from internment camps to go home, former detainees faced further severe restrictions on their human rights, particularly their freedom of movement. These restrictions were in addition to the discriminatory policies directed at all members of ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang. Nearly all former detainees who spoke to Amnesty were required to continue their “education” and to attend classes in Chinese language and political ideology after they were released. They were also forced to publicly “confess” their “crimes” at flag-raising ceremonies.

All former detainees Amnesty International interviewed said they were placed under both electronic and in-person surveillance and subjected to regular evaluations from government employees and cadres. Nearly all former detainees reported that government employees or cadres were required to stay with them in their homes for several nights per month after they were released from a camp. For at least several months, nearly all were prohibited from leaving their village or township. If they were allowed to leave, they were required to get written permission from the authorities beforehand.

Amnesty interviewed former detainees who were sent from the camps to work in factories. Arzu told Amnesty that after spending six months in one camp he was transferred to another camp, where he was taught to sew in preparation for being sent to a factory. He was then required to live and work in a factory for several months making government uniforms. These testimonies point to a number of ways in which the authorities in Xinjiang appear to be forcing or compelling Uyghurs and other members of ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang to engage in certain types of labour, sometimes as an extension of the “education” received in the camps.

Some detainees were reportedly transferred from camps to prisons. Like the process of being released to go home, the seemingly related process through which camp detainees were given prison sentences is not well understood. It is also unclear how the release process and the sentencing process were connected – especially how, or if, the prison sentencing process in the camps was integrated with any formal sentencing process outside the camps.

Amnesty International was not able to interview anyone who was given a prison sentence in a camp and then sent to a prison. Amnesty did, however, interview former camp detainees who said they were given sentences that were subsequently “forgiven”. Amnesty also interviewed former detainees who said that while they were detained, one or more of the people in their classes received prison sentences, often apparently for everyday behaviour far removed from any type of recognized offence. Many of the former detainees personally knew other people – usually multiple people – who had been given prison sentences.

The government of China has enacted other far-reaching policies that severely restrict behaviour of all members of predominately Muslim ethnic groups, including those who have never been sent to a camp or prison. The brutal effectiveness and tremendous scale of the government’s campaign derive from the government’s unprecedented use of surveillance technology, coupled with its ability to make large portions of the region’s population help it to execute its will. The government relies on a nearly inescapable in-person and electronic surveillance operation designed to ensure that the behaviour of ethnic minority groups is continuously monitored and evaluated. Ubiquitous government cadres, violent security forces, and a non-independent legal system act in concert to conduct the surveillance and enforce rights-violating policies.

Muslims living in Xinjiang may be the most closely surveilled population in the world. The government of China has devoted tremendous resources to gathering incredibly detailed information about this group’s lives. This systemized mass surveillance is achieved through a combination of policies and practices that infringe on people’s rights to privacy and freedom of movement and expression. According to former residents of Xinjiang, the system of surveillance involves extensive, invasive in-person and electronic monitoring in the form of:

  • biometric data collection, including iris scans and facial imagery;
  • invasive interviews by government officials;
  • regular searches and interrogations by ubiquitous security officers;
  • “homestays” by government employees and cadres assigned to live with ethnic minority families;
  • an ever-present network of surveillance cameras, including facial recognition cameras;
  • a vast network of checkpoints known as “convenience police stations”; and
  • unfettered access to people’s personal communication devices and financial history.

Chinese authorities collected detainees’ biometric data before sending them to internment camps. This included photographs, fingerprints, an iris scan, a voice recording, and a writing sample. Blood samples and X-rays were also taken.

In addition to providing the government with enormous amounts of personal information, this operation allows the authorities to comprehensively track – in real time – the communications, movements, actions, and behaviours of Xinjiang’s ethnic minority populations.

Muslims living in Xinjiang cannot move freely. The government restricts their travel both within Xinjiang and between Xinjiang and the rest of China. The government also makes it extraordinarily difficult – often impossible – for members of ethnic minority groups, particularly Uyghurs, to travel abroad. All members of ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang were forced to hand over their passports to the government in 2016 and 2017. Very few people have been able to get them back.

Former residents of Xinjiang said movement restrictions are enforced in a discriminatory manner. Interviewees said the police stopped only ethnic minorities on the street and checked their ID. Witnesses, including one who worked at a government checkpoint, reported that Han Chinese either did not need to go through the checkpoints at all or were essentially waved through without having their bodies or phones searched and without being questioned. Yin, a Han Chinese person who visited Xinjiang, told Amnesty about the discrimination they witnessed while travelling:

The surveillance cameras are literally everywhere… The discrimination is so blatant. When I boarded a train, they didn’t check anything, but the Uyghurs sitting right across from me, they checked their tickets and their phones… When I was in the station, there were two lines [for security checks], one for Uyghurs and one for Han without facial recognition, just through a metal detector. The line for Uyghurs was very long… Under a tunnel in [a major city] I just walked by, but Uyghurs had to have a full body check with metal detectors, including old men. They were checked at both sides of the tunnel. I was carrying luggage, and no one even checked my bag. I went through the [security] door, but no one checked with a wand… Because I am Han, I was not checked… I spoke with a [government official] who said, ‘Uyghurs have to be treated differently because there are no Han terrorists’.

Muslims living in Xinjiang cannot practise their religion. Former detainees and other people interviewed by Amnesty International who lived in Xinjiang between 2017 and early 2021 also described an environment that was extraordinarily hostile to the practice of Islam. By the time these individuals left China, none felt comfortable displaying any signs of religious practice and all believed doing so would result in them being detained and sent to a camp. According to these witnesses, numerous Islamic practices that Muslims widely consider essential to their religion that were not explicitly prohibited by law in Xinjiang are now, in effect, prohibited. Muslims are prevented from praying, attending mosques, teaching religion, wearing religious clothing, and giving children Islamic-sounding names. As a result of the constant, credible threat of detention, Muslims in Xinjiang modified their behaviour to such an extent that they no longer displayed outward signs of religious practice.

Numerous former residents of Xinjiang told Amnesty they were forbidden to possess any religious artefacts in their houses or any religious content on their phones, including religious books, films, or photographs. Several former residents also said cultural books, artefacts, and other content associated with Turkic Muslim culture have, in effect, been banned. Aiman told Amnesty how government cadres and police barged into the houses of Muslim families and forcibly confiscated all religious artefacts:

“We went to [a part of the village] where 20 families from [a Muslim ethnic group] lived. We had to take out everything to do with religion and show them that these were illegal things… While we were doing this, we wouldn’t even knock on the door… We would just go in without asking for permission… People were crying… We gave everything to the police… We also told them to remove things written in Arabic.”

According to the evidence Amnesty International has gathered, corroborated by other reliable sources, members of predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have been subjected to an attack meeting all the contextual elements of crimes against humanity under international law. The evidence Amnesty has seen therefore provides a factual basis for the conclusion that the perpetrators, acting on behalf of the Chinese state, have carried out a widespread and systematic attack consisting of a planned, massive, organized, and systematic pattern of serious violations directed at the civilian population in Xinjiang. Amnesty International believes the evidence it has collected provides a factual basis for the conclusion that the Chinese government has committed at least the following crimes against humanity: imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; torture; and persecution.

The government of China must immediately close all the remaining internment camps and release all persons held in internment camps or other detention facilities – including prisons – in Xinjiang, unless there is sufficient credible and admissible evidence that they have committed an internationally recognized offence. The government must also repeal or amend all laws and regulations, and end all related policies and practical measures, that impermissibly restrict the human rights of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other members of predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, including the right to freely leave and return to China and to choose and practise their religion.

An independent and effective investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity and other serious violations of human rights documented in this report is required. All those reasonably suspected of criminal responsibility should be brought to justice in fair trials. In particular, the UN Human Rights Council or the UN General Assembly must establish an independent international mechanism to investigate crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang, with a view to ensuring accountability, including through the identification of suspected perpetrators.

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A teacher and two armed guards stand on the other side of barrier from detainees at a “class” in an internment camp.

 

Methodology

Research Methods

This report is a product of field and remote research carried out between October 2019 and May 2021. The report’s findings and conclusions are based on first-hand testimonies that Amnesty International gathered from former detainees of the internment camps and other people who were present in Xinjiang after 2017, as well as from an analysis of satellite imagery and data. The report also draws on testimonial evidence and confidential government documents gathered and analysed by journalists, scholars, and other human rights organizations.

108 people were interviewed for this report: 55 former detainees of internment camps in Xinjiang (37 men and 16 women), 15 other people who lived in or visited Xinjiang since 2017, and 48 family members of people from Xinjiang who are currently missing or detained. The majority of the interviewees were Kazakh, a minority were Uyghurs, and a small number were Kyrgyz, or Han Chinese.

The former detainee testimonies represent a significant portion of all public testimonial evidence gathered about the situation inside the internment camps since 2017. Forty-four of the 55 former detainees interviewed for this report had never shared any part of their stories publicly before, and several others had never shared significant portions of their stories. According to the Xinjiang Victims Database – a website run by human rights researchers and activists that aggregates and synthesizes all publicly available testimony related to Xinjiang internment camps – excluding the former detainees interviewed publicly for the first time in this report, fewer than 40 former detainees have ever spoken publicly. 1 1
See Xinjiang Victims Database

Many of the interviews done for this report were arranged with the assistance of two human rights organizations based in Kazakhstan.

Amnesty informed all interviewees about the nature and purpose of the research and about how the information they provided would be used. Oral consent was obtained from each interviewee before the interview. No incentives were provided to interviewees in exchange for their accounts. Interviews generally lasted between four and 12 hours and were often conducted over the course of multiple days. The vast majority of interviews were conducted using translators fluent in Mandarin Chinese, Uyghur, Kazakh, or Kyrgyz; a few were conducted in English and Mandarin Chinese. Interviews were conducted in person in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey and remotely in several other countries in Asia, Europe, and North America. Interviews with former detainees and witnesses were conducted individually.

For reasons related to access and the security of the interviewees, no interviews were conducted in Xinjiang either in person or remotely. The government of China threatens, detains, tortures, and forcibly disappears individuals who speak publicly about the human rights situation in Xinjiang. Many former detainees and witnesses are rightly afraid of being identified as having spoken publicly on this issue.

All interviews with former camp detainees and other witnesses were conducted on the condition that Amnesty International refrain from publishing the interviewee’s name and/or any information that could be used to identify the interviewee, the interviewee’s family or anyone else who might be at risk if they were to be identified. Pseudonyms are used in all cases

Moreover, since only a small number of former internment camp detainees are believed to have left China, and because the Chinese authorities likely know the identity of each of them as well as details about their life and their time in the internment camps, Amnesty took a very cautious approach to including any information that could be used for the purposes of identification. For example, the report does not mention the specific internment camp where any particular interviewee was detained the specific village or town where that person lived, or the specific age of any of the interviewees, and only rarely does it refer to an interviewee’s occupation.

Obstacles to investigating the human rights situation in Xinjiang

The government of China has taken extraordinary measures to prevent accurate information about the situation in Xinjiang from being documented. Chinese citizens living in China – particularly former internment camp detainees – have been effectively prevented from speaking or otherwise sharing information about the situation in Xinjiang. There is only the remote possibility communicating from Xinjiang over a secure form of communication, and the consequences of being identified are severe. All members of predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang are under heavy surveillance (see Chapter 2). Anyone living in Xinjiang who speaks out about the internment camps, is perceived to have spoken out, is accused of speaking out, or is affiliated with anyone who has spoken out, risks detention, arrest, imprisonment, torture, and enforced disappearance, not only for themselves but also for their family members.

The risks are particularly severe for ex-detainees and their families, who face heightened levels of suspicion and surveillance. For at least several months after being released from a camp, all ex-detainees are under near constant electronic and in-person surveillance. Before being released, every former internment camp detainee who spoke with Amnesty was made to sign a document that forbade them from speaking with anybody – especially journalists and foreign nationals – about what they experienced in the camp. Former detainees were informed that they would be interned again if they violated this prohibition, as would members of their families.

As a result of the serious risks facing people in Xinjiang, it is impossible to safely do independent research and gather documentation in Xinjiang that involves speaking with people. Moreover, journalists, human rights investigators, and diplomats have all been denied unfettered access to the region. 2 2
See John Sudworth, BBC News, “China’s pressure and propaganda – the reality of reporting Xinjiang,” 15 January 2021

Andrew McCormick, Columbia Journalism Review, “How extensive restrictions have shaped the story in Xinjiang, China,” 16 October 2018

Matt Schiavenza, Asia Society, “Why It’s So Difficult for Journalist To Report from Xinjiang,” 23 May 2019

Human Rights Watch, “China’s Weak Excuse to Block Investigations in Xinjiang: Ambassador Claims ‘Unreasonable, Unnecessary Obstacles’ Prevent UN Visit,” 25 March 2020
A few journalists have entered disguised as tourists but have found it nearly impossible to speak safely with people about the internment camp. 3 3
See Robin Barnwell and Gesbeen Mohammad, PBS Frontline, “China Undercover,”7 April 2020

Isobel Yeung, Vice News, “China’s Vanishing Muslims: Undercover in the Most Dystopian Place in the World,”
Journalists who have travelled to the region officially have encountered a coordinated effort by government officials to block them from speaking with local inhabitants, especially former detainees, and from accessing internment camps, except in situations where the authorities try to exercise complete control over where they visit, what they see, who they speak with, and what is said to them. 4 4
Amnesty International interviews with several journalists

see also: France 24, “Fake tourists and car crashes: How China blocks reporters in Xinjiang,” 27 June 2019

Human Rights Watch, “China’s Xinjiang Tour Should Have Fooled No One: Stage-Managed Trip Shows Need for Independent Assessments,” 7 January 2019

James Griffiths, CNN, “From cover-up to propaganda blitz: China’s attempts to control the narrative on Xinjiang,” 17 April 2021

CBC Radio, “’They followed me everywhere’: reporter tailed, deterred while investigating Uighur detention in Xinjiang’ – Nathan VanderKlippe says he’s been ‘surrounded by people’ who reached into his car, grabbed his camera,”
Foreign journalists based in China who attempt to report on the situation in China are often expelled or unable to renew their visas. 5 5
See Samuel Wade, China Digital Times, “China announces sweeping expulsion of American journalists,” 17 March 2020

James Griffiths, CNN, “Buzzfeed’s China reporter says she was forced to leave the country,” 23 August 2018

Cate Cadell, Tony Munroe, Reuters, “BBC journalist leaves China citing threats, obstruction,” 31 March 2021

In rare cases when journalists are able to interview people on the ground in Xinjiang, interviewees have subsequently been forced by authorities to retract their stories. In connection with a recent case Amnesty had documented for another report about Uyghurs abroad trying to reunite with their children still in Xinjiang, CNN tracked down and visited one of these children who expressed a desire to reunite with her family. 6 6
Amnesty International, “Hearts and Lives Broken: The Nightmare of Uyghur Families Separated by Repression”, 19 March 2021
Chinese state media paid a visit to the child and her grandparents, who shortly afterward appeared in a video in which they refuted any wish to reunite abroad. 7 7
China Global Television Network, “Xinjiang Human Rights: Uyghur family disturbed by CNN reporters asks son to come home,” 23 March 2021

Chinese government officials have also made a concerted effort to disseminate inaccurate and deliberately misleading information, both to foreign nationals and to the local population, about the human rights situation in Xinjiang. Former internment camp detainees told Amnesty International that they were forced to give false statements to their families or to the media, both while interned and after they had been released. 8 8
Amnesty International interviews.
Former detainees told Amnesty that while they were detained they had been coached about what to say to foreign journalists or Chinese government delegations that visited their camps. 9 9
Amnesty International interviews.
Ibrahim told Amnesty how he was trained to speak with journalists who were expected to come to the camp he was in:

One day they told us journalists were coming. And that when you see them to smile. And to say what you were told or you will be taken to an underground room [where people are tortured]… [During the days before the journalists were scheduled to arrive] our Chinese language classes stopped. And we practised answering questions for journalists for more than 10 days… We practised saying that the food is good and the Chinese Communist Party is great. I don’t know if the journalists ever came because we were not allowed to go out. I heard they came, but I didn’t see them. 10 10
Amnesty International interviews.

Bakyt, who spent more than a year in multiple internment camps, told Amnesty they were part of a group that was coached for 20 days about what to say to visiting journalists. “[We were coached] to say that we are studying well, deepening our knowledge, and we are thankful to the state, are getting a salary, that our family is taken care of, that we are here for the daytime only, and here voluntarily,” she said. 11 11
Amnesty International interviews.
None of this was true, they added.

In 2019, leaked Chinese government documents were published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), The New York Times, and other media outlets and scholars. These leaks appear to have triggered attempts to put even tighter controls on information coming out of Xinjiang, including through the physical destruction of documents related to the internment camp system. Amnesty International received several accounts of Chinese government cadres being made to burn files related to the internment camp system in the aftermath of the leaks. 12 12
Amnesty International interviews.
One former detainee – a former government cadre – told Amnesty that he participated in burning files. “I attended the burning. It was in… 2019, after I was released… I was helping to carry the files… It was not only the [detainees’] files. It is any re-education–related materials. For example, all notes from meetings… It took five or six days to burn everything [in the office],” he said. 13 13
Amnesty International interviews.

The authorities’ attempts to silence the affected population and destroy evidence echo a directive from one of the leaked government documents – known as the “Telegram” – obtained by the ICIJ, which emphasizes the importance of maintaining “strict secrecy” with respect to everything that happens inside camps. 14 14
The Telegram (previously) cited, para. 25.
While the leaked portion of the directive lacks significant details about how secrecy will be maintained beyond the statement that “[i]t is necessary to strengthen the [internment camps’] staff’s awareness of staying secret, and strictly enforce [the Party’s] political discipline and secrecy discipline,” the experiences of former detainees and witnesses documented in this report and elsewhere illustrate the immense resources that have been devoted to this cover-up effort, as well as the often harsh and repressive methods used to ensure population’s silence.

As a result of risks facing people in Xinjiang and obstacles facing journalists and investigators, with few exceptions the vast majority of credible testimonial evidence about the situation has been gathered from former detainees and other people who have left Xinjiang and have spoken from abroad. Yet speaking from abroad is also difficult and comes with serious risks, especially for the person’s family members who remain in China. 15 15
For more on the risks facing people who speak out about the situation from abroad See Amnesty International, “Nowhere Feels Safe: Uyghurs Tell of China-led Intimidation Campaign Abroad”, 21 February 2020
Since at least 2017, obtaining permission to travel abroad – and, in many cases, domestically – has been nearly impossible for Uyghurs and extraordinarily difficult for members of other Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. Those who have obtained permission to travel abroad since 2017 appear to require a connection to a foreign country (usually citizenship or immediate family) and one or more “guarantors” in Xinjiang who agree, in writing, that they will be sent to a camp if the person they are guaranteeing speaks or shares information about the internment camps or does not return to China on time. As documented in this report and elsewhere, these are not empty threats: family members of people who speak about the issue from abroad have been sent to internment camps.

Reporting about the situation from abroad also carries significant risks. In several instances, journalists with family members in Xinjiang who reported on or spoke about the situation in Xinjiang from abroad have had their family members back in Xinjiang arrested, sent to a camp or prison, or forcibly disappeared. 16 16
See Committee to Project Journalists, “China detains family members of Radio Free Asia Uyghur editor Eset Sulaiman,” 8 March 2021

Amnesty International, “Urgent Action: 20 Relatives of Uighur Journalist Detained,” 1 March 2018

David Martin, Deutsche Welle, “Chinese authorities detain relatives of Radio Free Asia’s Uighur reports: Relatives of five reports for Radio Free Asia’s Uighur service have been detained in China’s Xinjiang Region. RFA said families were targeted in retaliation for its coverage of Beijing’s crackdown of ethnic Uighurs,” 2 February 2018
Family members of human rights activists have also been targeted. 17 17
Amnesty International , “Urgent Action Update: Uyghur Activist’s 30 Relatives Still Detained,” 15 July 2019
Family members of human rights activists have died in detention. 18 18
Shohret Hoshur, Radio Free Asia, “Niece of Prominent Uyghur Scholar Confirmed to Have Died in Xinjiang Internment Camp: Mihray Erkin was forced to return to the region in 2019 and died in detention the following year,” 25 May 2021, www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/niece-05252021132121.html

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A man being interrogated in a police station before being sent to an internment camp.

Chapter 1

Background

Background on Xinjiang

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) is located in the far northwest of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). At 1.66 million km2, Xinjiang encompasses approximately one-sixth of China’s landmass and is bordered by eight countries: Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The area comprises vast semi-desert steppes in the north and desert basins ringed by historic oasis towns in the south. In the winter, temperatures can be extremely cold, far below freezing.

Xinjiang is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in China. According to China’s 2020 census, the region had a population of approximately 25.8 million. 19 19
Reuters, “Factbox:-Key takeaways from China’s 2020 population census,” 11 May 2021
Approximately half of that population belongs to mostly Turkic and predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, including Uyghurs (around 11.3 million), Kazakhs (around 1.6 million), Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Hui, and other members of the population whose languages, cultures, and ways of life differ distinctly from those of the Han, who are the majority ethnic group in “interior” China. 20 20
These numbers are from China’s 2010 census. The 2020 census did not include an update population breakdown by ethnicity.

The area that Xinjiang covers was renowned over centuries for the ancient Silk Road and its flourishing conduit of trade and culture between China and the rest of the world. Rich in coal, natural gas, and oil, Xinjiang is intertwined with many of China’s economic, strategic, and foreign policy goals. China’s leaders now consider stability in Xinjiang vital to the success of the “Belt and Road Initiative”, a massive global infrastructure development programme aimed at strengthening China’s links to Central Asia and beyond. 21 21
See Human Rights Watch, “China: ‘Belt and Road’ Projects Should Respect Rights,” 21 April 2019

Xinjiang is one of five autonomous regions of the PRC, where officially recognized “national minorities” are legally granted some formal representation in the organs of regional government. The autonomy conferred to these regions by the PRC constitution and the Law on Regional Autonomy has, however, remained largely symbolic. In Xinjiang, as in the rest of the PRC, all major policy decisions are taken by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The government of China considers Xinjiang to have been an inseparable part of China for millennia. But this history is disputed by many professional historians. It is also disputed by Uyghurs, some of whom perceive China as a colonizing force and aspire to independence. 22 22
See James A. Millward, “Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang,” Columbia University Press, 2007.
Abuses by government officials, discontent with government policies, and inter-ethnic resentment have led to isolated acts of violence targeting state officials, security forces, and occasionally the public. These acts are in turn usually followed by heavy-handed repression.

The region has been an important target for population resettlement from interior China since 1949. 23 23
During the first three decades of the PRC, resettlement of Han Chinese into Xinjiang was facilitated by what is now called the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (commonly known as the Bingtuan), an institution established in the early 1950s. The Bingtuan, described by many scholars as an institution that served to colonize Xinjiang, is both an administrative organ with a somewhat military structure and a large development corporation. It is established along the border and in pockets of territory roughly across the centre of Xinjiang, separating the north, where most of the Kazakhs in Xinjiang live, from the mainly Uyghur south. The Bingtuan has jurisdiction over several million hectares of land, and the vast majority of the population in this area is ethnic Han Chinese. It is a unique institution in the PRC and enjoys special status. It is administered independently from the Xinjiang regional government and has its own police force, courts, and agricultural and industrial enterprises, as well as its own large network of labour camps and prisons. For more information See See “New Ghosts Old Ghosts – Prisons and Labor Reform Camps in China” by James D. Seymour and Richard Anderson, M.E. Sharpe, 1998, p.45. Chapter 3 of the book includes detailed information about the Bingtuan and its network of labour camps and prisons, as well as the separate penal establishments under the Department of Justice of Xinjiang regional government. During the 1990s, the Bingtuan was placed directly under the authority of the central government in Beijing and was granted privileges giving it the same status as Xinjiang regional government.
With the massive influx of Han Chinese in recent decades, other ethnic groups have felt increasingly marginalized in what they regard as their ancestral land. 24 24
See Lillian Craig Harris, “XUAR, Central Asia and the Implications for China’s Policy in the Islamic World”, in The China Quarterly, No.133, March 1993, pp.111-129, and Nicholas Becquelin, “Trouble on the Marches”, in China Perspectives No.10, March/April 1997, pp.19-28

Nicholas Bequelin, New York Times, “Behind the Violence in Xinjiang,” 9 July 2009

Cycles of discrimination, violence, and repression from the 1980s to 2016

Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other predominantly Turkic Muslim groups living in Xinjiang have long faced discrimination and repression by their government. This repression has included violations of their human rights to freedom of movement and freedom of religion, their right to take part in cultural life, as well as their rights to access employment, education, and healthcare. This historical discrimination lessened under the “Reform and Opening” policy launched in the late 1970s and the subsequent economic reforms, which catalysed a revival of Islamic religious practices in Xinjiang as with other religions in the rest of the PRC in the 1980s. The authorities allowed the reopening of mosques, many Muslims were again allowed to travel to Islamic countries, and contact with Muslims abroad was encouraged. 25 25
See Lillian Craig Harris, op.cit., p. 121, and Gaye Christoflersen, “XUAR and the Great Islamic Circle: The Impact of Transnational Forces on Chinese Regional Planning”, The China Quarterly, No.133, March 1993, pp.130-151

Chinese authorities’ fears of organized political opposition in Xinjiang appear to have been heightened by the emergence of independent Central Asian states during the breakup of the Soviet Union after 1991 and protracted conflicts in other neighbouring countries. These worries were further heightened by the belief that Islam might provide a rallying point for ethnic nationalism, and that Islamist movements abroad might inspire young Uyghurs who had gone to study in foreign Islamic schools. These concerns combined with other stresses on the Muslim population led to a reversal of the relatively liberal policies implemented during the 1980s, which has generated growing ethnic discontent in Xinjiang. 26 26
See Amnesty International, “People’s Republic of China: Gross Violations of Human Rights in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” April 1999

The government’s concerns were reinforced by incidents of violence that took place during the mid-1990s. 27 27
See Gardner Bovingdon, “The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land,” Columbia University Press, 2010

Amnesty International, “People’s Republic of China: Gross Violations of Human Rights in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” April 1999
At that time, the authorities closed many mosques and Qur’anic schools and dismissed or arrested religious leaders deemed to be too independent or “subversive”. Muslims working in government offices and other official institutions were prohibited from practising their religion under threat of losing their jobs. In 1996, the government intensified its campaign against “national separatists”, “religious extremists”, and “illegal religious activities”, launching at the same time an “in-depth atheist education” campaign to purge Muslims from grassroots Communist Party committees and other institutions. 28 28
See Amnesty International, “People’s Republic of China: Gross Violations of Human Rights in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” April 1999

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the United States of America and the start of the “Global War on Terror”, restrictions on Muslims increased, as China began to classify Uyghur dissidents as terrorists and to pressure the rest of the world to designate Uyghur separatist groups as terrorist organizations. 29 29
See Sean Roberts, “The War On The Uyghurs: China’s Internal Campaign against a Muslim Minority,” Princeton University Press, 2020

Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, “Terrorist Activities Perpetrated by “Eastern Turkistan” Organizations and Their Links with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban,” 29 November 2001

Nicholas Bequelin, New York Times, “Behind the Violence in Xinjiang,” 9 July 2009
The authorities cultivated informants to report on the content of sermons in an attempt to monitor imams and prevent mosques from being used to disseminate what were perceived as separatist ideas or extremist religious thought. 30 30
Human Rights Watch, “Devastating Blows: Religious Repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang,” April 2005
The government targeted the celebration of Ramadan, with authorities forbidding fasting by students and government employees. 31 31
Congressional-Executive Commission on China, “XUAR Authorities Implement Ramadan Curbs Amid Renewed Pledges for Tight Controls Over Religion,” 11 October 2011
Religious education was strictly prohibited for people below the age of 18, who were also banned from entering mosques. The authorities also outlawed private religious instruction outside the auspices of officially sanctioned religious organizations. 32 32
Igor Rotar, Forum 18, “Strict Control of China’s Uighur Muslims Continues,” 15 August 2006

Policies of repression intensified further in the aftermath of the violent unrest in Urumqi that erupted on 5 July 2009. 33 33
Amnesty International, “’Justice, Justice”: The July 2009 Protests in Xinjiang, China,” 2 July 2010
According to official counts, rioting left nearly 200 dead and at least 1,700 injured, with most of the casualties reported to be Han. 34 34
Amnesty International, “Urumqi Riots Three Years On – Crackdown on Uighurs Grows Bolder,” 4 July 2012
Many hundreds of Uyghurs were detained as police made house-to-house sweeps following the riots, and harsh punishments were imposed on those alleged to be responsible for the violence, following trials that Amnesty International considers to have fallen short of international fair trial standards. 35 35
Amnesty International, “’Justice, Justice”: The July 2009 Protests in Xinjiang, China,” 2 July 2010
The courts handed down numerous death sentences and long prison terms. 36 36
Uyghur Human Rights Project, “Can Anyone Hear Us? Voices from the 2009 Unrest in Urumchi”, 1 July 2010
Dozens of other detainees were reported to have been victims of enforced disappearances, being held by authorities without any notification to family members or lawyers. 37 37
Human Rights Watch, “We Are Afraid to Even Look For Them”: Enforced Disappearances in the Wake of XUAR’s Protests, 21 October 2009

Amnesty International, “’Justice, Justice”: The July 2009 Protests in Xinjiang, China,” 2010

Several acts of violence took place during the following years, including attacks on police stations in Aksu in August 2010 and in Kashgar and Khotan in July 2011. The government has described these as terrorist attacks. Scholars have argued that many of these incidents were, in fact, resistance against equally violent government security forces. 38 38
See Sean Roberts, “The War On The Uyghurs: China’s Internal Campaign against a Muslim Minority,” Princeton University Press, 2020, p. 154 – 159.

In the aftermath of these incidents, the government introduced repressive criminal-justice measures and other measures designed to prevent instability in the first place. These included an increase in the number of police in Xinjiang: 8,000 officers were hired with the goal of establishing a police presence in more rural parts of the region. 39 39
English.news.cn, “XUAR to Recruit 8,000 Police Officers to Boost Security in Rural Areas,” Xinhuanet, 30 January 2012,

Campaigns aimed at further restricting religious practices and equating such practices with “extremism” expanded. A particular focus was to prohibit men from wearing beards and women from wearing veils and headscarves. 40 40
“XUAR Authorities Target Beards, Veils in Campaigns to Tighten Control Over Religion,” Congressional-Executive Commission on China, 18 October 2010
In some of the region’s villages, the authorities compelled residents to pledge to abide by codes of conduct (cungui minyue) aimed at preventing “illegal religious activity”. 41 41
“Authorities in XUAR Use Pledge System to Exert Control Over Village Life,” Congressional-Executive Commission on China, 10 December 2010
Around this time, the mass surveillance of ethnic minorities also intensified. Tens of thousands of high-definition cameras were installed throughout the region, especially in the capital, Urumqi, in an effort to achieve “seamless” surveillance. 42 42
Associated Press, “China puts Urumqi under ‘full surveillance’: Xinjiang city which saw ethnic violence in 2009 now watched by thousands of cameras, says state media,”
In 2013 President Xi Jinping announced an internment strategy and put 200,000 cadres into villages in the region. 43 43
James Leibold, China Leadership Monitor, “The Spectre of Insecurity: The CCP’s Mass Internment Strategy in Xinjiang,”, 1 March 2019

In 2014, in the aftermath of several stabbing and bombing attacks carried out by Uyghurs, the surveillance and repression increased significantly with the start of the government’s “Strike Hard Against Violent Terrorist Activity” campaign. 44 44
See Jelil Kasgary, Hai Nan, Xin Lin, Radio Free Asia, “China Steps Up ‘Strike Hard’ Campaign in Xinjiang,” 9 January 2014, on the Strike Hard

BBC News, “China separatists blamed for Kunning knife rampage,” 2 March 2014

Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, “In China’s Far West, a City Struggles to Move On,” 23 May 2014

Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, “Train Station Rampage Further Strains Ethnic Relations in China,”

China Daily, “Xinjiang’s Party chief wages ‘people’s was’ against terrorism,” 25 May 2014
As part of this campaign, officials prioritized speedy arrests, quick trials, and mass sentencing. The government called for greater “cooperation” between prosecuting authorities and courts, raising additional concerns that accused individuals would not receive fair trials. 45 45
Amnesty International, China: Draconian anti-terror law an assault on human rights, 4 March 2015
Under the banner of “people’s war”, religious practice was even more tightly restricted and the government imposed further bans on religious appearances and religious education and restricted halal food. 46 46
See Sean Roberts, “The War On The Uyghurs: China’s Internal Campaign against a Muslim Minority,” Princeton University Press, 2020, p 201.
State media have reported that after six months of the Strike Hard campaign, by autumn 2014 at least 238 alleged “illegal religious preachers” and people who had provided venues for religious observances had been detained and 171 venues for “illegal religious activities” had been “eliminated”. A total of 23,000 “illegal religious items” were confiscated, including more than 18,000 books and 2,600 CDs and DVDs. 47 47
Amnesty International, China: Draconian anti-terror law an assault on human rights, 4 March 2015
A national security law authorized sending people to 15 days of “re-education” at the government’s discretion and reports emerged of “re-education camps.” 48 48
See Sean Roberts, “The War On The Uyghurs: China’s Internal Campaign against a Muslim Minority,” Princeton University Press, 2020, p 202

Jeremy Daum, China Law Translate, “XJ Education Centers Exist, but does their legal basis?”, 14 August 2018

James Leibold, China Leadership Monitor, “The Spectre of Insecurity: The CCP’s Mass Internment Strategy in Xinjiang,”, 1 March 2019

As part of the Strike Hard campaign, Uyghurs were required to obtain new identification documents that restricted their mobility. 49 49
Mercy A. Kuo, The Diplomat, “Uyghur Biodata Collection in China: Insights from Darren Byler,” 28 December 2017
All mobile SIM cards and electronic communication devices were required to be registered. 50 50
Reuters, “China to force buyers of computers and phones in Xinjiang to register names: Reports that new measure is designed to ‘prevent people spreading harmful information,” 29 January 2015
Virtual private networks (VPNs) were outlawed. Security officers regularly checked smartphones. 51 51
Radio Free Asia, “Police Increase Checks of Uyghur Smartphone Users in Xinjiang,” 08 January 2016
Many similar measures have since been applied more broadly throughout China as part of general cybersecurity efforts. 52 52
Samm Sacks and Paul Triolo, “Shrinking Anonymity in Chinese Cyberspace”, Lawfare, 25 September 2017
The government also began a “voluntary” campaign of mass biometric data collection; refusal to participate could lead to being flagged as “suspicious”. 53 53
Mercy A. Kuo, The Diplomat, “Uyghur Biodata Collection in China: Insights from Darren Byler,” 28 December 2017

Human Rights Watch, “China: Minority Region Collects DNA from Millions – Private Information Gathered by Police, Under Guise of Public Health Program,” 13 December 2017

In 2015, China passed a new anti-terror law that further enabled violations of ethnic minorities’ rights to freedom of religion and expression by giving legal justification for persecuting people who peacefully practised religion or criticized the government. 54 54
Amnesty International, China: Draconian anti-terror law an assault on human rights, 4 March 2015
The law also required technology firms to help the authorities to decrypt information. 55 55
Ben Blanchard, Reuters, “China passes controversial counter-terrorism law,” 27 December 2015

In line with an overall shift to the use of big-data analysis and “predictive policing”, China began looking to technology to identify people “likely” to become “terrorists”. 56 56
Sean Roberts, “The War On The Uyghurs: China’s Internal Campaign against a Muslim Minority,” Princeton University Press, 2020, p. 202.
The government used its anti-terrorism law to justify the intrusive nature of the data gathered to support the predictive policing campaign. 57 57
Amnesty International, China: Draconian anti-terror law an assault on human rights, 4 March 2015
The law gave the authorities access to communication, travel, and work history; social media profiles; internet search history; financial information; and family connections. 58 58
Sean Roberts, “The War On The Uyghurs: China’s Internal Campaign against a Muslim Minority,” Princeton University Press, 2020, p. 202.
The data was aggregated and entered into the government’s Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), a big-data collection program that analysed the information gathered by government cadres and electronic surveillance systems throughout Xinjiang and determined whether a person was “normal” or “untrustworthy”(for more on IJOP see Chapter 2).

The spread of the surveillance and social control measures in Xinjiang coincided with the arrival of Chen Quanguo in August 2016 as Xinjiang’s party secretary, the highest-ranking position in the region. 59 59
Chris Buckley, New York Times, “The Leaders Who Unleashed China’s Mass Detention of Muslims,” 13 October 2018

James Leibold, China Leadership Monitor, “The Spectre of Insecurity: The CCP’s Mass Internment Strategy in Xinjiang,”, 1 March 2019
Before being appointed to the top of the political hierarchy in Xinjiang, Chen held the same position in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) from 2011 to 2016. During his time there, he established a reputation as an “ethnic policy innovator” who won praise from government officials for maintaining relative stability and bringing an end to a series of self-immolation protests by Tibetans in the TAR. 60 60
See Human Rights Watch, “China Poised to Repeat Tibet Mistakes,” 20 January 2017
Authorities operating under him at this time have been accused of serious human rights abuses. 61 61
See Human Rights Watch, “Relentless: Detention and Prosecution of Tibetans under China’s “Stability Maintenance” Campaign,” 22 may 2016
Since arriving in Xinjiang, Chen’s strategy has involved heavy investment in security infrastructure. Shortly after he became party secretary in Xinjiang, the authorities advertised 100,000 new security-related jobs and constructed an estimated 7,500 checkpoints, or “convenience police stations”, in urban areas. 62 62
Sean Roberts, “The War On The Uyghurs: China’s Internal Campaign against a Muslim Minority,” Princeton University Press, 2020, p. 205

Darren Byler and Timothy Grose, Dissent, “China’s Surveillance Laboratory,” 31 October 2018
The government also clamped down on the movement of members of ethnic minorities, with ethnic minority residents required to turn in their passports 63 63
Human Rights Watch, “China: Passport Arbitrarily Recalled in Xinjiang,” 1 November 2016
and Uyghur students studying abroad ordered to return to Xinjiang on 20 May 2017. 64 64
Hoshur, S. (2017) Uyghurs Studying Abroad Ordered Back to XUAR Under Threat to Families [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at:

In March 2017, new “De-extremification Regulations” were adopted in Xinjiang, prohibiting “extremist” behaviour, which included wearing face coverings, having “abnormal” beards, and refusing to take part in state cultural and recreational activities. The notoriously vague and overbroad regulation essentially criminalized many standard religious and cultural practices. 65 65
Amnesty International, “Why China must scrap new laws that tighten the authorities grip on religious practice,” 31 August 2017
The De-extremification Regulations provided the “legal” cover for the government to expand its then-nascent internment camp system in southern Xinjiang to the rest of the region.

In April 2017, huge numbers of individuals from ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang began to be detained and sent to government-run facilities. 66 66
Sheena Chestnut Greitens, Myunghee Lee, Emir Yazici, “Counterterrorism and preventive Repression: China’s Changing Strategy in Xinjiang,” International Security, Vol. 44, No. 3 (Winter 2019/20), pp. 9–47
Hundreds of buildings were built, expanded, or repurposed to this end. 67 67
See Ben Dooley, AFP, “Inside China’s internment camps: tear gas, Tasers and textbooks,” 24 October 2018

Nather Ruser, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (APSI), “Documenting Xinjiang’s detention system,” September 2020
The government initially denied reports of these facilities but later tried to justify them and rebrand them as “vocational training” or “transformation through education” centres set up as part of a national poverty alleviation programme or a deradicalization programme. 68 68
Lily Kuo, The Guardian, “From Denial to pride: how China changed its language on Xinjiang’s camps,” 21 October 2018

In July 2019, 22 mostly European governments sent a letter to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) president expressing concern about reports of large-scale arbitrary detention as well as “widespread surveillance and restriction” in Xinjiang and requesting “meaningful access to Xinjiang for independent international observers.” 69 69
Catherine Putz, The Diplomat, “Which Countries Are For or Against China’s Xinjiang Policies?”, 15 July 2019
Thirty-seven countries from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia responded with a letter lauding China’s contribution to human rights, using language that was similar to statements China made to the HRC the same week. 70 70
Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, “China’s Retort Over Its Mass Detentions: Praise From Russia and Saudi Arabia,” 12 July 2019
In June 2020, 37 UN Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts sent a letter to the HRC expressing concern on a variety of human rights issues in China, including the repression of religious and ethnic monitories in Xinjiang, and calling for the establishment of an “impartial and independent United Nations mechanism” to investigate the allegations. 71 71
United Nation Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “UN experts call for decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms in China,” 26 June 2020

China and countries supporting it have responded to these and other calls for independent investigations by further praising China’s human rights record and claiming its government has invited the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to Xinjiang and that discussions on the matter were ongoing. 72 72
Catherine Putz, The Diplomat, “2020 Edition: Which Countries Are For or Against China’s Xinjiang Policies?” 9 October 2020
As of June 2021, no independent investigators had been granted meaningful access to Xinjiang.

Leaked Chinese government documents

Since November 2019, journalists, scholars, and human rights groups published half a dozen caches of leaked Chinese government documents related to the situation in Xinjiang. Together, they form the most comprehensive source of documentary evidence about the government’s actions and intentions with respect to the system of persecution and mass internment in Xinjiang.

In November 2019, The New York Times reported that it had obtained more than 400 pages of internal Chinese government documents. According to the Times, the documents, known as the “Xinjiang Papers”, “confirm the coercive nature of the crackdown in the words and orders of the very officials who conceived and orchestrated it.” The documents included information about senior government officials ordering mass detentions, including speeches by President Xi Jinping in which he calls for an all-out “struggle against terrorism, infiltration, and separatism” using the “organs of dictatorship” and showing “absolutely no mercy”. The documents also reveal that government officials who were insufficiently supportive of the campaign were purged, and that the internment camp system expanded greatly after the appointment of Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who has been quoted as saying “round up everyone who should be rounded up.” 73 73
The Xinjiang Papers: Austin Ramzy and Chris Buckley, “’Absolutely No Mercy’: Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims: More than 400 pages of internal Chinese documents expose an unprecedented inside look at the crackdown on ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.”, New York Times, 16 November 2019

For the government of China’s response to the New York Times’s reporting See Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, “China Defends Crackdown on Muslims and Criticizes Times Article,” 18 November 2019

Also in November 2019, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released another cache of government documents. Known as the “China Cables”, these documents included what has been described as a “operations manual” for running the internment camps in Xinjiang. 74 74
“The China Cables”: Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, “Exposed: China’s Operating Manuals for Mass Internment and Arrest by Algorithm.: A new leak of highly classified Chinese government documents reveals the operations manual for running the mass detention camps in Xinjiang and exposed the mechanism of the region’s system of mass surveillance.” 24 November 2019

”The Telegram”: available at:
This manual – known as the “Telegram” – includes instructions for camp officials about “how to maintain total secrecy about the camps’ existence”, “methods of forced indoctrination”, and the points system used to evaluate detainees. The cache also includes four intelligence briefings – known as “bulletins” – that reveal information about the government’s mass data gathering and surveillance programme, including the IJOP, and how information the IJOP gathered was used to “select entire categories of Xinjiang residents for detention.” 75 75
”The Telegram”: Autonomous Region Party Political and Legal Affairs Commission, “Autonomous Region State Organ Telegram: Opinions on further strengthening and standardizing vocations skills education and training centers work,” 2017, available at:

Two other leaked government documents contain government records on several thousand people in total who were arrested and sent to internment camps in Xinjiang between 2017 and 2019. The documents – referred to as the “Karakax list” and the “Aksu list”, after the locations in Xinjiang where the people named in the documents lived – contain, among other things, the official reasons given for why the individuals were detained and interned. 76 76
Ariane Zenz, Journal of Political Risk, “The Karakax List: Dissecting the Anatomy of Beijing’s Internment Drive in Xinjiang,” February 2020

Human Rights Watch, China: Big Data Program Target’s Xinjiang Muslims – Leaked List of Over 2000 Detainees Demonstrates Automated Repression, 9 December 2020
(For more on the Karakax list and the Aksu list see Chapter 3.)

i

Pilgrims praying at Imam Asim shrine before 2017, and same shrine after being desecrated. Shrines and other religious and culture sites of great importance have been demolished or desecrated throughout Xinjiang.

Chapter 2

Blanket Repression

Violations of human rights outside of internment camps since 2017

In 2017, under the guise of an intensifying campaign against “terrorism”, the government of China commenced a massive escalation of its historical abuses of Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. An objective of the government’s current campaign appears to be to root out Islamic religious practices and beliefs and Turkic Muslim ethno-cultural practices and replace them with secular state-sanctioned views and behaviours. Ultimately, the government aims to forcibly assimilate members of these ethnic groups into a homogenous Chinese nation possessing a unified language, culture, and unwavering loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party.

Chinese government officials monitoring a family. Government officials are often required to live several nights a month with families from predominantly ethnic minority groups.

To achieve this political indoctrination and forced cultural assimilation, the government undertook a campaign of mass detention (see Chapters 3 to 6). The internment camp system is part of a larger campaign of subjugation and forced assimilation of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The government has severely restricted the behaviour of Muslims living in Xinjiang, including those who have never been sent to an internment camp. These restrictions violate multiple human rights, including the rights to liberty and security of person; to privacy; to freedom of movement; to opinion and expression; to thought, conscience, religion, and belief; to participate in cultural life; and to equality and non-discrimination. These violations are carried out in such a widespread and systematic manner that they are now an inexorable aspect of daily life for millions of members of predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

The brutal effectiveness and tremendous scale of the government’s campaign derive from the government’s unprecedented use of surveillance technology, coupled with its ability to make large portions of the region’s population help it to execute its will. The government relies on a nearly inescapable in-person and electronic surveillance operation designed to ensure that the behaviour of ethnic minority groups is continuously monitored and evaluated. Ubiquitous government officials, violent security forces, and a non-independent legal system act in concert to conduct the surveillance and enforce rights-violating policies. As a result, members of the targeted ethnic groups, including those who have never been detained, live in constant fear of arrest, detention, and torture under a draconian system of social control that is a constant affront to basic human dignity.

Witness accounts of restrictions on freedom of religion and cultural practice

According to China’s constitution and other laws, citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” and the state protects “normal religious activities.” 77 77
The National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, “Constitution of the People’s Republic of China,” Article 36, available at:
The government, however, has not explicitly defined which activities qualify as “normal”. Muslims in Xinjiang have faced severe restrictions on their religious freedom for decades. In 2017, these restrictions became significantly more severe.

In March 2017, highly discriminatory De-extremification Regulations were adopted that further restricted certain Islamic religious practices, both in law and in effect. 78 78
See XUAR Uyghur autonomous region regulations on de-extremification, “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Regulations on De-Extremification,” China Law Translate, March 30, 2017

Amnesty International, “China: Families of up to one million detained in mass “re-education” drive demand answer”, 24 September 2018
Open or even private displays of religious or cultural affiliation, including growing an “abnormal” beard, wearing a veil or headscarf, regular prayer, fasting, avoidance of alcohol, or possessing books or articles about Islam or Uyghur culture could be considered “extremist” under the regulations. After these regulations were promulgated, many religious figures, intellectuals, and academics were detained in Xinjiang merely for exercising their rights to freedom of religion and expression. 79 79
This includes Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur economist, writer and professor who was sentenced to life in prison in 2014 and Tashpolat Teyip, former president of XUAR University who was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve in 2017, both on charges of “separatism”

See Amnesty International, “China: Civil Society &

Scholars Call on China to Immediately Release Uighur Professor Ilham Tohti Five Years After Arrest,” 15 January 2019

Amnesty International, 9 September 2019, “Uyghur academic faces execution in China,”
In conjunction with these regulations, government brochures describing “75 manifestation of religious extremism” were widely distributed. 80 80
See Cia Siqi, Global Times, Xinjiang counties identify 75 forms of religious extremism”, 25 December 2014
The alleged signs included wearing beards or face coverings; interference with family-planning policies; constructing religious buildings without approval; participating in unapproved pilgrimages; making minors fast, pray, or study scripture; ceasing to drink or smoke or to participate in regular social activities; buying or storing large amounts of food; and buying too much gasoline, camping gear, or strength-training equipment without “proper reasons”. Citizens were instructed to report “extremist” activities to local authorities. 81 81
See XUAR Uyghur autonomous region regulations on de-extremification, “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Regulations on De-Extremification,” China Law Translate, March 30, 2017

Amnesty International interviewed 65 Muslim men and women who lived in Xinjiang between 2017 and early 2020. They described an environment that was extraordinarily hostile to the practice of Islam. By the time these individuals left China, none felt comfortable displaying any signs of religious practice and all believed that doing so would result in them being detained and sent to a camp. According to these witnesses, numerous Islamic practices that Muslims widely consider essential to their religion that were not explicitly prohibited by law in Xinjiang are now, in effect, prohibited. 82 82
See also, Amnesty International, “’Forgive my children for now fasting’ – Ramadan in Xinjiang,” 2 May 2019
Muslims are prevented from praying, attending mosques, teaching religion, wearing religious clothing, and giving children Islamic-sounding names. 83 83
Amnesty international interviews

See also: Human Rights Watch, “China Bans Many Muslim Baby Names in Xinjiang: Absurd Edict Part of Growing Restriction on Uyghurs,” 24 April 2017
Former residents also said that appearing insufficiently secular – for example, not drinking alcohol, not smoking, or eating only halal foods – was also grounds for being classified as suspicious and sent to an internment camp. 84 84
Amnesty International interview

See also: Jon Sharman, Independent, “China ‘forcing Muslim to eat pork and drink alcohol’ lunar new year festival: Accusation comes after officials in Xinjiang launched ‘anti-halal’ campaign,” 7 February 2019

As a result of the constant credible threat of detention, Muslims in Xinjiang modified their behaviour to such an extent that they no longer display outward signs of religious practice. Saken, a former detainee, told Amnesty that Muslims in his town changed their behaviour to dissociate themselves from the practice of Islam. “Before [2017] we could pray, and we could fast… In 2016, the governor of Xinjiang was greeting Muslims during Ramadan. But after the camps started, people did not pray or fast… People were afraid even to talk to imams… We could not even greet each other in the Islamic way,” he said. 85 85
Amnesty International interviews.
Many other former residents also reported that they had either been instructed by the authorities or that it was generally understood that it was forbidden to use traditional Islamic greetings. “We couldn’t say ‘as-salamu alaykum’ to each other anymore,” Yerkinbek said. 86 86
Amnesty international interviews

See also, Darren Byler, SupChina, “The ‘patriotism’ of not speaking Uyghur,” 2 January 2019

Auelbek, who had been involved with his local mosque for most of his life before being taken to an internment camp, told Amnesty he found that people in his village had stopped praying after his release: “Not a single person [in my village] can pray anymore. It is because the government is against religion. They are against Muslims.” 87 87
Amnesty International interviews.

Daulet, who said he had been sent to a camp for his affiliation with what he described as a government-approved mosque, told Amnesty how people’s behaviour in his village had changed as a result of the new restrictions put in place in 2017 and still in effect when he was released from the camp in 2019:

Now [in 2019] people have stopped talking about religion… No one comes to Friday prayers [in our village] anymore… Every village has its own policies. In our village women were eventually allowed to wear headscarves again… in other villages they cannot… I’ve heard that in some villages you could read the Qur’an, but in our village it is completely forbidden, even today. 88 88
Amnesty International interviews.

Raziya told Amnesty that civil servants had been prohibited from fasting and attending mosques for several years, but that in 2016, the government started to try to prevent everyone from fasting and praying. “They forbade us from fasting, especially during Ramadan. They would call us to [the village administration office] and feed us. And during Ramadan they would monitor whose light was on in the house [to see who was praying]… People started to be afraid of [being seen] not drinking alcohol,” she said. 89 89
Amnesty International interviews.

Amnesty International interviewed witnesses who said the government prevented them from carrying out traditional rituals and ceremonies for marriages, baby-naming, and funerals. 90 90
Amnesty International interviews

see also, Shohret Hoshur, Radio Free Asia, “Xinjiang Authorities Use ‘Burial Management Centers’ to subvert Uyghur Funeral Traditions,” 19 April 2018
“Now if someone dies only direct relatives come to funerals,” Daulet said. 91 91
Amnesty International interviews.
Yerkinbek told Amnesty, “In the past we used to pray and celebrate religious holidays. Now, none of this happens… No one can pray at funerals anymore. It makes people really upset because they cannot bury their loved ones in the proper way.”

Saken, told Amnesty that since 2017 government cadres had asked people in his village to sign documents stating whether they were religious and that many people who were religious felt compelled to say they were not because they were afraid of what might happen to them if they told the truth. Saken further described how police and government cadres halted a funeral he attended in 2019 in the middle of the ceremony because they said the dead person had signed a document saying he was not religious and that it was therefore not permitted to perform religious funeral rituals for him. 92 92
Amnesty International interviews.

Meryemgul, a former detainee, recounted how government officials had stripped the religious aspects from traditional ceremonies in her village:

Weddings are now held according to the instructions of government. In our tradition, the imam reads verses [from the Qur’an] and gives names to newborn babies, but now it is [a government official] who give names and there is no reciting the Qur’an… And there are forbidden names [to give to your children], the Islamic names… They also started to change the names of people who already had Islamic names, like ‘Mohammed’. 93 93
Amnesty International interviews.

Witnesses further told Amnesty that the government openly pressured ethnic minorities – particularly Uyghurs – to marry people from the Han Chinese ethnic group. Others stated that some members of ethnic minorities were marrying Han Chinese because they believed it would stop the problems they were having with the government. 94 94
Amnesty International interviews.
“The government encourages people to intermarry and gives privileges [to those who do], like exempting you from re-education and also [providing] some economic benefits… People intermarrying with Han get the same rights as Han… All of this is on television. It is in newspapers. They promote it,” Meryemgül told Amnesty. 95 95
Amnesty International interviews.

Journalists and academics have reported that the government has enacted policies to incentivize members of ethnic minority groups to marry Han Chinese. The policies reportedly include cash payments, free education for children, tuition subsidies, greater consideration for government housing and jobs, and extra points on college entrance exams for children of interethnic couples. 96 96
Edward Wong, New York Times, “To Temper Unrest in Western China, Officials Offer Money for Intermarriage” 2 Sept 2014

Darren Byler, SUPChina, “Uyghur Love in A time of interethnic Marriage”, 7 August 2019

Eva Xiao, AFP, “China pushes inter-ethnic marriage in XUAR assimilation drive”, May 17, 2019
Journalists have also reported Uyghur women being coerced to marry Han Chinese men. 97 97
Leigh Hartman, Share America, “China coerces Uyghur women into unwanted marriages,” 24 September 2019

Destruction of religious and cultural artefacts

Numerous former residents of Xinjiang told Amnesty International that it had become forbidden to possess any religious artefacts in their houses or any religious content on their phones, including religious books, films, or photographs. Amnesty also spoke with three individuals – two former government cadres and one person who assisted government cadres – who had been involved with the monitoring and searching of people’s property; two of them provided first-hand accounts of removing prohibited artefacts from Muslim households.

Several former residents also said that cultural books, artefacts, and other content associated with Turkic Muslim culture have, in effect, been banned. Members of ethnic minority groups were pressured to destroy these and replace them with Chinese books and art. 111 111
Amnesty International interviews.
“The restrictions are not just about religious things… I was in my cousin’s house and [they were made to take down] their traditional wood carvings, and even the carpets [were cut]. There was something written in Uyghur on the back of the carpet… Since it was written in Uyghur [the authorities] made them cut it off,” Saken said. 112 112
Amnesty International interviews.

Former residents reported that their homes were searched by police or government cadres. Some reported burning or destroying all their books and cultural artefacts related to Islam or Uyghur or Kazakh culture in anticipation of being searched. “There was an announcement that everyone should bring in their books [to the government office]… We had a bookshelf. We had Uyghur books. We didn’t submit the books because that would be supplying evidence. So, we hid the books. Some people burned the books. We hid them while I was there,” Gohernisa said. 113 113
Amnesty International interviews.
“We were afraid. We tore [our Qur’an] into little pieces and then burned it,” Saken said. 114 114
Amnesty International interviews.

Raziya described how she observed that between 2016 and 2017 government officials in her area went from targeting certain “categories” of religious people – for example, those who dressed in a religious manner or other local government officials (who were required to be secular) – to targeting all Muslims. She said that in 2017 local government officials started searching all Muslims and Muslim households for signs of religious practice. She described the lengths to which her family went to hide the religious artefacts in their house:

[Security agents] started checking phones in the street and searching for Qur’ans and prayer mats and prayer beads [in our house]… We had to get rid of these things… We couldn’t just throw [our Qur’an] away so we put it in a pot and boiled it, then we threw it away. We believed that if we boiled it then the police couldn’t find the fingerprints on the books. 115 115
Amnesty International interviews.

Meryemgul, who worked for the government, said government officials would regularly visit the houses of Muslim families in her village to check for any signs of religious practice, and that if religious artefacts were found, those families were at risk of being sent to camps. 116 116
Amnesty International interviews.

[I]f there is a crescent on the door, you have to remove it. If there is any shape, like a dove or an ark, you have to change it… Anything from a different culture, you have to change it… There was one Qur’an given by the government allowed in each house. You can’t have anything else related to religion.

Aiman, who worked for the government, told Amnesty how government cadres and police barged into the homes of Muslim families and forcibly confiscated all religious artefacts:

We went to [a part of the village] where 20 families from [a Muslim ethnic group] lived. We had to take out everything to do with religion and show them that these were illegal things… While we were doing this, we wouldn’t even knock on the door… We would just go in without asking for permission… People were crying… We gave everything to the police… We also told them to remove things written in Arabic.

Aiman also explained to Amnesty that government cadres regularly monitored the houses of ethnic minorities for religious artefacts. “[When we visited the houses of families we were responsible for] we had to make sure they did not have a photo of a mosque or anything linked to religion. And everyone was required to have a Chinese flag. We told them to remove photos [of mosques] and to put up flags.” 117 117
Amnesty International interviews.

Mehmet, who also worked for the government, told Amnesty that he and his colleagues were responsible for searching people’s homes for religious and cultural artefacts. “We would check every house in the village for literature and books written in Kazakh or calligraphy in Arabic, he said. We had to collect and burn them… We gathered the books [from people’s homes] and then took them to the community office. The guards at the officed burned them. I saw them.” 118 118
Amnesty International interviews.

Destruction of religious and cultural sites

Mosques, shrines, gravesites, and other religious and cultural sites have been systematically destroyed or repurposed throughout Xinjiang. 119 119
See Rian Thum, Made in China Journal, “The Spatial Cleansing of Xinjiang: Mazar Desecration in Context”, 24 August 2020

Lily Kuo, The Guardian, “Revealed: New Evidence of China’s Mission to Raze the Mosques of XUAR”, 6 May 2019

Uyghur Human Rights Project: ‘Demolishing Faith: the destruction and desecration of Uyghur Mosques and Shrines,” UHRP 28 October 2019

Joanne Smith Finley, ChinaFile, “’Now We Don’t Talk Anymore’: Inside the ‘Cleaning’ of Xinjiang,” 28 December 2018
Using satellite imagery to survey the territory, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has estimated that over 16,000 mosques have been destroyed or damaged in Xinjiang since 2017. 120 120
Nathan Ruser, Dr James Leibold, Kelsey Munro and Tilla Hoja, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), “Cultural Erasure: Tracing the Destruction of Uyghur and Islamic Spaces in Xinjiang,”
The affected sites include sites of pilgrimage, which have particular importance in Uyghur religion and culture. According to a foreign scholar who visited the sites, two of the most sacred pilgrimage sites – the Imam Jafiri Sadiq mazar and the Ordam Padishah mazar – have been demolished and others have been desecrated, closed, or turned in tourist attractions. 121 121
Rian Thum, Made in China Journal, “The Spatial Cleansing of Xinjiang: Mazar Desecration in Context”, 24 August 2020
Mehmet visited three other historic shrines and said that video cameras had been installed to monitor the sites. “Now everyone is afraid to go,” he told Amnesty. 122 122
Amnesty International interviews.

Amnesty International interviewed numerous people who said mosques in their towns and villages had been destroyed or repurposed. 123 123
Amnesty International interviews

Also, Government demolition of religious venues has not been limited to mosques in Xinjiang. Under Xi Jinping, the government has intensified efforts to “sinicize” religions, including Islam and Christianity, that are considered “foreign”. Since 2014, particularly in coastal Zhejiang Province, thousands of crosses have been torn down from churches and other churches have been demolished under the pretext of regulating excessive and illegal religious sites

See Religious Transformation in Modern Asia A Transnational Movement Edited by David W. Kim.
Many former detainees reported seeing dramatic changes in their villages when they returned home after months of detention, including the destruction or repurposing of mosques and other cultural artefacts. Baurzhan told Amnesty what it was like when he saw his village for the first time after being released from the camp. “They removed crescents from every mosque… and from the furniture in homes… Now every house had to have a picture of Xi Jinping. Before we had a picture of a mosque,” he said. 124 124
Amnesty International interviews.
Aitugan told Amnesty many of the mosques in his area were destroyed and restaurants were no longer allowed to display halal signs. “It’s like they are trying to erase Islam,” he said. 125 125
Amnesty International interviews.
Aidar told Amnesty his township used to have 15 mosques, including two in his village, but that 13 had been repurposed:

Only two mosques are operating now. Thirteen closed down… Only a very small number of people still pray [at the remaining mosques]. They are all very old… I couldn’t even pray at home. They were monitoring me. I was afraid… Some [of the closed] mosques are empty, some are clothing factories… but all minarets have been demolished and Islamic decorations removed… Both mosques in my village [including the one still operating] had minarets demolished. 126 126
Amnesty International interviews.

Witnesses also mentioned that Islamic crescents and Arabic script had been removed from the remaining mosques as well as from other cultural and religious sites, including gravesites. “Some mosques were demolished… others had crescents taken off and Chinese flags put up in their place… Crescents were also taken off gravesites. For example, my mother died, and my brother had to take the crescent off the gravestone. Officials in the village made him do it,” Abzal said. 127 127
Amnesty International interviews.
“Part of my job was to take crescents off of Muslim gravesites… I used to have to paint over the Arabic words… I painted over my relative’s gravestone,” Mehmet said. 128 128
Amnesty International interviews.

The omnipresent surveillance state

Muslims living in Xinjiang may be the most closely surveilled population in the world. The government of China has devoted tremendous resources to gathering incredibly detailed information about this group’s lives. This systemized mass surveillance is achieved through a combination of policies and practices that infringe on people’s rights to privacy and freedom of movement and expression.

Amnesty International interviewed 65 members of ethnic minority groups who lived in Xinjiang between 2017 and 2021, each of whom described what it was like to experience the government’s system of surveillance. Amnesty also interviewed a Han Chinese person who visited Xinjiang and provided their observations of the surveillance state. 129 129
Amnesty International interview

For another account of a Han Chinese man in Xinjiang see Amnesty International, “Witness to Discrimination: Confessions of a Han Chinese from Xinjiang,” 16 June 2020
According to these people, the system of surveillance involves extensive, invasive in-person and electronic monitoring in the form of:

  • biometric data collection, including iris scans and facial imagery;
  • invasive interviews by government officials;
  • regular searches and interrogations by ubiquitous security officers;
  • “homestays” by government employees and cadres assigned to live with ethnic minority families;
  • an ever-present network of surveillance cameras, including facial recognition cameras;
  • a vast network of checkpoints known as “convenience police stations”; and
  • unfettered access to people’s personal communication devices and financial history.

The information witnesses provided to Amnesty is consistent with what journalists, scholars, and other investigators have revealed about the government’s mass surveillance operation in Xinjiang. 130 130
For other articles and reports on surveillance in Xinjiang See Paul Mozur and Aaron Krolik, New York Times, “A Surveillance Net Blankets China’s Cities, Giving Police Vast Powers: The authorities can scan your phones, track your face and find out when you leave your home. One of the of the world’s biggest spying networks is aimed at regular people, and nobody can stop it,” 17 December 2019

Yael Grauer, The Intercept, “Revealed: Massive Chinese Police Database – Millions of Leaked Police Files Detail Suffocating Surveillance of China’s Uyghur Minority,” 29 January 2021

Darren Byler, Noema Magazine, “The Xinjiang Data Police: In western China, the government has deputized an army of mostly young men to surveil the digital and real lives of people in their own communities,” 8 October 2020

Darren Byler, Prospect Magazine, “Big Brother vs. China’s Uighurs: Constant surveillance, cultural suppression and ‘re-education’ are the day-to-day reality for China’s Muslim minorities. And the technology giants that enable it are closer than we might thing,” 28 August 2020

Human Rights Watch, “China’s Algorithms of Repression: Reverse Engineering a Xinjiang Police Mass Surveillance App,” 1 May 2019

Megha Rajagopalan, BuzzFeed News, “This is What a 21st-Century Police State Really Looks Like,“ 17 October 2017

Josh Chin and Clement Burge, The Wall Street Journal, “Twelve Days in Xinjiang

How China’s Surveillance State Overwhelms Daily Life,” 19 December 2017
In addition to providing the government with enormous amounts of personal information, this operation allows the authorities to comprehensively track – in real time – the communications, movements, actions, and behaviour of Xinjiang’s ethnic minority population. 131 131
Paul Mozur and Aaron Krolik, New York Times, “A Surveillance Net Blankets China’s Cities, Giving Police Vast Powers: The authorities can scan your phones, track your face and find out when you leave your home. One of the of the world’s biggest spying networks is aimed at regular people, and nobody can stop it,” 17 December 2019

Much of the information gathered from the government’s mass surveillance effort is reportedly uploaded to a big-data collection system called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform, where it is continuously aggregated and analysed. 132 132
Human Rights Watch, “China: Big Data Fuels Crackdown in Minority Region – Predictive Policing Flags Individuals for Investigations, Detentions, 26 February 2018
According to research by Human Rights Watch, police and other government officials have used the IJOP for collecting large amounts of personal information as well as for “reporting on activities or circumstances deemed suspicious, and prompting investigations of people the system flags as problematic”. Behaviours deemed “suspicious”, included peaceful religious practices, the use of unauthorized communications software, and purchasing or using what is considered to be an abnormal amount of gasoline or electricity. 133 133
Human Rights Watch, “China’s Algorithms of Repression: Reverse Engineering a Xinjiang Police Mass Surveillance App,” 1 May 2019
Many of the “suspicious” behaviours the IJOP reportedly tracked and flagged mirror “reasons” camp detainees interviewed by Amnesty were given for why they were sent to a camp (see Chapter 3).

Azat, who worked for the government and was familiar with parts of the data collection system, told Amnesty about some of the movements and communications the government tracked:

In 2017… It was all going in the system… All the information, where you have gone, who you have talked to, goes into the database… We were collecting information on three main categories: who you travel with, where you sleep, and who you talked to… If you were involved with someone – you called them, you travelled with them, or you shared a hotel with them – then [your name] goes onto a list and is sent [to various levels of government]. 134 134
Amnesty International interviews.

In-person surveillance by local government officials

Local government officials in Xinjiang are responsible for gathering a huge amount of personal information about families from ethnic minority groups. A large portion of this information is gathered through invasive in-person interviews that occur in government offices and in people’s homes.

Aiman told Amnesty that local government officials classified households into three categories: “targeted” (usually those that had family members in the camps), “trusted” (normally government officials), and “ordinary” (everyone else). “Targeted” households were subjected to heightened in-person monitoring and electronic surveillance. 140 140
Amnesty International interviews.

Aiman also told Amnesty how government cadres used to visit people’s homes and gather information:

I had to gather information on [several dozen families in my area]… We had to gather information on many things, on their relatives abroad, about whether they had given their children Islamic names… I don’t know how all the information was used… [We didn’t gather all the information at once]… We would get an order… for example, to go and get a passport… In 2016 we had to gather everyone’s passports… Or to find out if anyone [from the household] had been travelling to Kazakhstan… Or who prays… [In 2016 and 2017] we just asked them about praying… They didn’t know how it would be used at the beginning. 141 141
Amnesty International interviews.

Mehmet, who also worked for the government, told Amnesty how he was responsible for gathering detailed information about families in the town he worked in:

We visited houses with the auxiliary police… we asked people if they had visited other countries, whether they had WhatsApp or other forbidden apps on their phone… [The assistant police] brought a device to check if people’s phones had any religious content on them or any Kazakh songs… or anything else forbidden… They brought a portable PC and small electronic device that looked like a router… We also had special paper to take fingerprints and a ‘family visit phone’ to take photos of the household and to make voice recordings.

As he worked in a town with a significant Kazakh population, Mehmet also said he was given a list of topics specific to Kazakh culture to check for. According to him, if people were found with any forbidden materials it could be grounds to send them to the camp. 142 142
Amnesty International interviews.

One of the most invasive aspects of in-person surveillance in Xinjiang for members of ethnic minority groups is the practice of government “homestays”. Since 2014, the government has assigned cadres to live in the homes of ethnic minority residents and monitor their activities. The programme was expanded in 2017 and has reportedly included more than 1 million cadres who spend a few days a month living in ethnic minority households. Referred to as “relatives”, the predominantly Han Chinese cadres are tasked with monitoring and reporting any suspicious behaviour – such as religious practice or political views – and with carrying out political indoctrination. 143 143
Darren Byler, Foreign Policy, “China’s Nightmare Homestay: In Xinjiang, unwanted Chinese guests monito Uighur homes 24/7”, 26 October 2018

Human Rights Watch, “China: Visiting Officials Occupy Homes in Muslim Region,” 13 May 2018





Steven Jiang, CNN, “Chinese Uyghur forced to welcome Communist Party into their homes,” 14 May 2018

Adrian Zenz, Journal of Political Risk, Break Their Roots: Evidence for China’s Separation Campaign in Xinjiang, July 2019
According to the government, the programme is said to “promote communication and interaction among different ethnic groups in Xinjiang”. 144 144
Ji Yuqiao, Global Times, “1.1 million civil servants in Xinjiang pair up with ethnic minority residents to improve unity,” 7 November 2018

According to Mehmet, cadres were required to stay with families they were responsible for – their “relatives” – five days a month. He said, other government officials would periodically check on the cadres in the middle of the night to make sure that they were actually staying at the house. 145 145
Amnesty International interviews.
Other people also mentioned that the officials staying at in their homes were also being monitored to make sure that they were present. 146 146
Amnesty International interviews.
According to Aiman, all “targeted” households were required to have a government cadre stay overnight in their house three times a week. 147 147
Amnesty International interviews.
Numerous former camp detainees Amnesty interviewed said that they were required to host government cadres in their houses several nights a week or a month after they were released from detention. 148 148
Amnesty International interviews.
Former detainees also reported that, while they were in the camp, their family members were required to have government minders stay with them. 149 149
Amnesty International interviews.
Some former detainees reported that cadres checked in on them during the day but did not stay overnight. 150 150
Amnesty International interviews.

The cadres took pictures of them and their family members, monitored their behaviour, and tried to teach them “correct” ideology. 151 151
Amnesty International interviews.
Minders also checked homework from the language and ideology classes members of ethnic minorities were forced to attend. 152 152
Amnesty International interviews.
Gauhar told Amnesty that after she was released from a camp, minders would come and inspect her house every day to make sure she was home, and they would check her homework from the night school. “If you passed the homework test they leave, or they would stay and help you do the homework,” she said. 153 153
Amnesty International interviews.

Batima told Amnesty International that when her father was sent to a camp, she and her mother were forced to move back to their home village and have a government minder stay with them. She described what the minder did while staying with the family:

She ate with us. Listened to what we were saying. Told us about politics. About our ‘crimes’. For example, [she said:] ‘Do not go abroad. Do not contact the outside world. Be thankful for the government. Confess that your father committed crimes.’… She stayed overnight… She stayed in the same room as me… She took photos of us. And she told us to attend classes. 154 154
Amnesty International interviews.

Similar cadre homestays have been widely reported by journalists and other human rights organizations. 155 155
Darren Byler, Foreign Policy, “China’s Nightmare Homestay: In Xinjiang, unwanted Chinese guests monito Uighur homes 24/7”, 26 October 2018

Human Rights Watch, “China: Visiting Officials Occupy Homes in Muslim Region,” 13 May 2018

Steven Jiang, CNN, “Chinese Uyghur forced to welcome Communist Party into their homes,” 14 May 2018
Other human rights organizations have reported incidents of sexual violence occurring within the context of the programme. 156 156
Darren Byler, Foreign Policy, “China’s Nightmare Homestay: In Xinjiang, unwanted Chinese guests monito Uighur homes 24/7”, 26 October 2018

Human Rights Watch, “China: Visiting Officials Occupy Homes in Muslim Region,” 13 May 2018

Restrictions on the right to privacy and to freedom of expression

The government attempts to restrict all personal digital communication to apps and platforms that it can access and monitor, including WeChat. 157 157
Human Rights Watch, China: Big Data Program Target’s Xinjiang Muslims – Leaked List of Over 2000 Detainees Demonstrates Automated Repression, 9 December 2020

Darren Byler, The Guardian, “China’s hi-tech war on it Muslim minority: Smartphones and the internet gave Uighurs a sense of their own identity – but now the Chinese state is using technology to strip them of it,” 11 April 2019
Journalists have also reported that people have been made to install an app called Clean Net Guard, which provides the government with access to the contents of the user’s phone and also informs users when they are viewing “inappropriate” content. 158 158
William Drexel, Uyghur Human Rights Project, “Kashgar Coerced: Forced Reconstruction, Exploitation, and Surveillance in the Cradle of Uyghur Culture,” June 2020

Megha, Rajagopalan, BuzzFeed News, “China is Forcing People to Download An App That Tells Them to Delete “Dangerous” Photos: The Surveillance app, the name of which literally translates to “web cleansing,” scans for photos and videos and dispatches all the information to a mysterious outside server,” 9 April 2018

Former detainees told Amnesty they were required to provide the government with their phone numbers and social media accounts. 159 159
Amnesty International interviews.
“People from [our neighbourhood committee] came to every household and got all our WeChat [account IDs] and our social media account information,” Kunsulu told Amnesty International. 160 160
Amnesty International interviews.

According to numerous former detainees Amnesty has interviewed, having unsanctioned software installed on one’s phone – including VPNs and encrypted messaging platforms such as WhatsApp – was grounds for being detained and sent to an internment camp (see Chapter 3). Journalists have reported that not having a smartphone can also be viewed as suspicious, as can throwing out a SIM card, having a SIM but not using it, or activating multiple SIMs in a year. 161 161
Uyghur Human Rights Project, “The Mass Internment of Uyghurs: ‘We want to be respected as humans. Is it too much to ask?”

Former detainees told Amnesty that government officials told them not to visit some websites, especially those related to Islam or certain aspects of Turkic Muslim culture. “We were forbidden from visiting certain websites… And on your phone you can’t write anything about the Qur’an or Allah, and certain words are forbidden. You can’t write anything about Kazakh heroes,” Kunsulu said. 162 162
Amnesty International interviews.

Government agents regularly search the contents of phones owned by Muslims. Former detainee told Amnesty they were told they were sent to a camp for having religious content on their phones (see Chapter 2). According to journalists’ reports and leaked government documents, people have been sent to camps for being accused of belonging to certain WeChat groups. 163 163
Yael Grauer, The Intercept “Revealed: Massive Chinese Police Database – Millions of Leaked Police Files Detail Suffocating Surveillance of China’s Uyghur Minority,” 29 January 2021

Restrictions on freedom of movement

Muslims living in Xinjiang cannot move freely. The government restricts their travel both within Xinjiang and between Xinjiang and the rest of China. 169 169
Tom Phillips, The Guardian, “In China’s far west the ‘perfect police state’ is emerging”, 22 June 2017

Human Rights Watch, Eradicating Ideological Viruses: China’s Campaign of Repression Against Xinjiang’s Muslims, 9 September 2018
Certain movement restrictions appear to affect all Muslims; more severe movement restrictions are placed on former detainees, the families of former detainees, and other targeted people.

For several months after being released, nearly all former camp detainees were placed under some form of house arrest or “neighbourhood” arrest. Those who were occasionally allowed to leave their homes (or other areas to which they were confined) were required to get written permission from the authorities beforehand. After this period, some of the restrictions placed on their freedom of movement were slowly lifted. (For more on freedom of movement restrictions placed on former camp detainees see Chapter 6.)

Members of ethnic minority groups who have never been sent to internment camps also face serious restriction on their movements within Xinjiang. Former residents of Xinjiang reported they and their family members were forbidden from travelling outside their neighbourhood without permission. 170 170
Amnesty International interviews.

Reyhangül, who had been living outside of Xinjiang, returned to her hometown in 2018 to find that she now needed written permission from local government officials to travel to see her friends in another town. She told Amnesty the movement restrictions also affected her family and her community. “People were not moving anywhere [outside of our neighbourhood] because they could not get permission… My [family members] couldn’t go anywhere. They were essentially bonded to the house and to their work,” she said. 171 171
Amnesty International interviews.

Interviewees said permission was needed to enter specific Uyghur neighbourhoods in certain cities. 172 172
Amnesty International interviews.
“Since 2016, there were special areas in Urumqi where Uyghur communities are totally blocked. If I want to go into these areas then I have to give the police my ID and tell them where I am going and for how long,” Ismail said. 173 173
Amnesty International interviews.
Meryemgül told Amnesty the Uyghur population in her town had their movements restricted; her movements were even further restricted because she had travelled abroad:

There is a travel restriction. If we needed to go from town to town we needed to get permission [from the government]… Guests needed to be registered and you needed to ‘guarantee’ that guest… Because I went abroad, I had an ‘[alert]’ on my ID… When I went [to this town] there was a checkpoint and they checked my ID card and told me to come into a room where they held suspicious people… [After that] I was afraid to use my ID. 174 174
Amnesty International interviews.

Former residents reported that a “flag” was assigned to their ID for reasons they did not know and that they were prevented from travelling to certain areas or entering certain buildings as a result. “If you got flagged from a checkpoint then the flag would stay with you… I got flagged and I was prevented from riding a bus and from entering a hospital.” 175 175
Amnesty International interviews.

These movement restrictions are enforced through a ubiquitous electronic surveillance network. Whenever members of ethnic minorities do move about in Xinjiang, the government tracks their movements through their phones and by the ever-present network of surveillance cameras on street corners and lamp posts, many of which have facial recognition capabilities. 176 176
Tom Phillips, The Guardian, “China testing facial-recognition surveillance system in Xinjiang – report: system alerts authorities when suspects on watchlist stray from their home or workplace,” 18 January 2018

Paul Mozur and Aaron Krolik, New York Times, “A Surveillance Net Blankets China’s Cities, Giving Police Vast Powers: The authorities can scan your phones, track your face and find out when you leave your home. One of the of the world’s biggest spying networks is aimed at regular people, and nobody can stop it,” 17 December 2019

Paul Mozur, “One Month, 500,000 Face Scans: How China is Using A.I. to Profile a Minority: In a major ethnical leap for the tech world, Chinese start-ups have built algorithms that the government uses to track members of a largely Muslim minority group,” 14 April 2019

Journalists have reported that the facial recognition technology is specifically programmed to “detect, track, and monitor Uyghurs.” 177 177
Avi Asher-Schapiro, Reuters, “Chinese tech patents tolls that can detect, track Uighurs,” 13 January 2021
“Every roof of a police station, a checkpoint, also has many cameras. On every corner, on every red light, there are many cameras. You can’t count. There are so many… They are at the entrance of every Uyghur-populated area,” Ismail said. 178 178
Amnesty International interviews.
Ibrahim told Amnesty a camera was installed outside his house after he was released from a camp. 179 179
Amnesty International interviews.
Yerkinbek said officials threatened to install a camera in his place of work after they interrogated him and accused him of behaving suspiciously. 180 180
Amnesty International interviews.
Two individuals who worked for the government told Amnesty that officials installed cameras outside the houses of families that were being monitored. 181 181
Amnesty International interviews.
“Targeted families have cameras installed outside of the gates of the house [to monitor them]… I saw this everywhere,” Aiman said. 182 182
Amnesty International interviews.

In addition to surveillance by ubiquitous cameras, the population is monitored by a huge number of security forces, who often check ID and search people’s phones in the street, and by thousands of “convenience police stations” and other checkpoints located throughout Xinjiang. 183 183
Sheena Chestnut Greitens, Myunghee Lee, Emir Yazici, “Counterterrorism and preventive Repression: China’s Chainging Strategy in Xinjiang,” International Security, Vol. 44, No. 3 (Winter 2019/20), pp. 9–47

Adrian Zenz and James Leibold, The Jamestown Foundation, “Chen Quanguo: The Strongman Behind Beijing’s Securitization Strategy in Tibet and Xinjiang,” China Brief Volume 17, Issue 12
Numerous residents told Amnesty about the increase in the number of police on the streets. “The number of auxiliary police increased. They are everywhere. In one street you might be checked several times. You might be questioned several times,” Azhar said. 184 184
Amnesty International interviews.

“[In 2016 and early 2017] the police were everywhere, you could hear the ringing of police sirens all the time,” Merdan said. 185 185
Amnesty International interviews.
“Assistant police started randomly checking everyone’s phones… They were taking anyone with something [forbidden] on their phone to the camp… I used to clean my phone before I went into the city… It was a very scary time,” Yerkinbek said. 186 186
Amnesty International interviews.

Numerous residents told Amnesty how large numbers of security checkpoints were constructed in their towns and neighbourhoods in 2017. 187 187
Amnesty International interviews.
“After Chen [Quanguo] came [to Xinjiang as party secretary], he built thousands of police outposts in the street. Every 200–300 metres. I saw them myself every day in Urumqi… My home is on [a street], and in a very short time five or six [convenience] police stations were built within 1–2 kilometres [on the street],” Asanali told Amnesty. 188 188
Amnesty International interviews.
Kunsulu described how the security forces grew dramatically in his area after 2017 and what it was like to go through checkpoints:

In streets, the police outnumbered people… Every street had a temporary police station… it was impossible to get into the market without an ID. They would check ID, search your body and then let you in… In the temporary police stations… you go through a metal detector and facial recognition, and you scan your ID card. If there are no problems, you can go through; if not, the room is divided into two parts. It is divided by glass with police on the other side. If something is wrong, you are questioned [on the other side]. 189 189
Amnesty International interviews.

Residents told Amnesty International that at checkpoints they were required to have their ID scanned, to have iris or facial scans, and to have their phones and sometimes their bodies searched. 190 190
Amnesty International interviews.
Interviewees also said they were required to scan their ID when they made purchases in butcher shops or gas stations, and that anything suspicious that was purchased, like a knife, needed to have a QR code on it. 191 191
Amnesty International interviews

See also, Steven Melendez, Fast Company, “In locked-down Xinjiang, China is tracking kitchen knives with QR codes,” 20 December 2017
“I went to the town centre for shopping. I went to a tailor… The [tailor’s] scissors had a bar code on them and were chained to the wall… Police were checking stores all the time. Even [steam] irons were chained to the wall,” Reyhangül said. 192 192
Amnesty International interviews.
“In 2017… at every shopping centre, even little boutiques had to register the customers who came in and out so the police could follow up,” Azat said. 193 193
Amnesty International interviews.

Former residents of Xinjiang said movement restrictions were enforced in a discriminatory manner. Interviewees said the police stopped only ethnic minorities on the street and checked their ID. 194 194
Amnesty International interviews.
Witnesses, including two who worked at a government checkpoints, reported that Han Chinese either did not need to go through the checkpoints at all or were essentially waved through without having their bodies or phones searched and without being questioned. 195 195
Amnesty International interviews.
“Only Uyghurs have to go through checkpoints,” Aisha said. 196 196
Amnesty International interviews.
“There is an extra step for people from Xinjiang to get through airport security. They scanned our body twice with an X-ray machine,” Aidar said. “After the Urumqi riots, until 2016, only Uyghurs had to go through checkpoints. In 2016/2017 they started to check Kazakhs as well. I was on a bus and thought I did not have to [get off and go through the checkpoint], but the auxiliary police checked my ID and found out I was Kazakh and I had to get off the bus. Han don’t have to go through that,” Kunsulu said. 197 197
Amnesty International interviews.
Saken also reported that members of ethnic minorities were regularly asked to get off public buses to be searched, but not Han Chinese. 198 198
Amnesty International interviews.
“At malls and hospitals [everyone has to swipe their ID]… but in the street only Muslims have to do this, Han people didn’t have to swipe. And if a Han person forgets their card they can still be let in,” Dariga said. 199 199
Amnesty International interviews.

Several witnesses reported that at train stations and airports there were separate lines for Han Chinese and ethnic minorities. 200 200
Amnesty International interviews.
“In 2019, I went to Urumqi… Before [I got on the train], I had to go through a very strict checkpoint, and when I got off the train they directed Han Chinese in one direction and Muslims in another… [Muslims] had to go through another checkpoint again [Han Chinese did not],” Saken said. 201 201
Amnesty International interviews.

Yin, a Han Chinese man who visited Xinjiang, told Amnesty about the discrimination he witnessed while travelling:

The surveillance cameras are literally everywhere… The discrimination is so blatant. When I boarded a train, they didn’t check anything, but the Uyghurs sitting right across from me, they check their tickets and their phones… When I was in the station, there were two lines [for security checks], one for Uyghurs and one for Han without facial recognition, just through a metal detector. The line for Uyghurs was very long… Under a tunnel in [a major city] I just walked by, but Uyghurs had to have a full body check with metal detectors, including old men. They were checked at both sides of the tunnel. I was carrying luggage, and no one even checked my bag. I went through the [security] door, but no one checked with a wand… Because I am Han, I was not checked… I spoke with a [government official] who said, ‘Uyghurs have to be treated differently because there are no Han terrorists’. 202 202
Amnesty International interviews.

Members of ethnic minorities told Amnesty they had difficulties booking hotel rooms and renting apartments when they travelled outside their hometowns. 203 203
Amnesty International interviews
“In Beijing, the hotel we booked online refused to check us in… They said it was because our documents were from Xinjiang… I think they rejected us because they were afraid the police would come… I felt like a third-class citizen,” Aidar said. 204 204
Amnesty International interviews.
“We were always rejected by hotels. Every time, people from the front desk would tell us that they can’t accept us or that they don’t have a room… Sometimes we would be de-registered if we had booked online. And if they did accept us, the police would always come [to the room],” Zeynepgul said. 205 205
Amnesty International interviews.

Restrictions on leaving or entering China

The government makes it extraordinarily difficult – often impossible – for members of ethnic minority groups, particularly Uyghurs, to travel abroad. 206 206
See Human Rights Watch, “One Passport, Two Systems: China’s Restriction on Foreign Travel by Tibetans and Others,” 13 July 2015

Uyghur Human Rights Project, “Weaponized Passports: The Crisis of Uyghur Statelessness,” April 2020
To start with, members of ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang were forced to hand over their passports to the government in 2016 and 2017. 207 207
Amnesty International interview

See also Human Rights Watch, “China: Passport Arbitrarily Recalled in Xinjiang,” 21 November 2016

Uyghur Human Rights Project, “Weaponized Passports: the Crisis of Uyghur Statelessness,” April 2020

Edward Wong, New York Times, Police Confiscate Passports in Parts of Xinjiang, in Western China,” 1 December 2016
Since then, very few people have been able to get them back.

Very few Uyghurs or members of other non-Kazakh ethnic groups have been able to leave Xinjiang since 2017, and nearly all the cases known to Amnesty involve people with strong family ties to foreign countries or individuals who paid bribes or have exceptionally strong contacts with senior government officials. 208 208
Amnesty International interviews

See also, Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), “Uyghurs to China: “Return our relatives’ passports’,” August 2020

Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), “Weaponized Passports: the Crisis of Uyghur Statelessness,” 1 April 2020
Yerkinbek, an ethnic Kazakh who was able to go to Kazakhstan after paying a “broker” to get his passport back, told Amnesty that a Uyghur friend of his tried to do the same thing with the same broker and was told it was impossible because he was Uyghur. 209 209
Amnesty International interviews.

Aidar, who left Xinjiang to study before 2017, told Amnesty that while he was living in China he had to hand his passport over to local officials. When he tried to get it back so he could go abroad he was told he was not allowed to have his passport because he was member of a minority. “My family had to pay a bribe to get my passport,” he said. 210 210
Amnesty International interviews.
Ismail, who left Xinjiang in early 2017, told Amnesty he believes he was one of the last Uyghur people to be able to leave:

In February 2017, our community [administration office] took back our passports and told us they were just copying them and we would get them back… I doubted I would get mine back, but I got mine back [and then I left the country]. I heard in May 2017 that everyone’s passport was taken again. And they were never returned. After I left, very few [Uyghurs] were able to leave. I am one of the last who left. 211 211
Amnesty International interviews.

Moreover, according to former detainees Amnesty has interviewed, as well as reports from journalists and leaked government documents, travelling abroad, attempting to travel abroad, or associating with people abroad is grounds for being detained and sent to an internment camp (see Chapter 3).

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A mother and her child watch in agony as her husband is taken from their home and sent to an internment camp.

Chapter 3

Arbitrary Detention

Arbitrary detention

Since early 2017, massive numbers of men and women from predominantly Muslim ethnic groups have been detained in Xinjiang. 212 212
New York Times. China’s Prisons Swell After Deluge of Arrests Engulfs Muslims: Arrests, trials and prison sentences have surged in Xinjiang, where Uighurs and Kazakhs also face reeducation, 31 August 2019

Human Rights Watch, China: Baseless Imprisonments Surge in Xinjiang – Harsh, Unjust Sentences for Uyghurs, Other Muslims, 24 February 2021
This includes at least hundreds of thousands who have been sent to prisons as well as hundreds of thousands – perhaps 1 million or more – who have been sent to internment camps. 213 213
For estimates about the number of detainees in Xinjiang See Patrick deHahn, Quartz, “More than 1 million Muslims are detained in China—but how did we get that number?”, 4 July 2019

Jessica Batke, ChinaFile, “Where Did the One Million Figure for Detentions in Xinjiang’s Camps Come From?”, 8 January 2019

Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) and Equal Rights Initiative (ERI), “China: Massive Numbers of Uyghurs &

Other Ethnic Minorities Forced into Re-education Programs,” August 3, 2018

Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), “CHRD Stands Firmly by Estimate of One Million Uyghurs Detained,” 3 August 2020

Adrian Zenz, “New Evidence for China’s Political Re-Education Campaign in XUAR,” China Brief, vol. 18, issue 10, May 15, 2018

Adrian Zenz, The Journal of Political Risk, “Wash Brains, Cleanse Hearts”: Evidence from Chinese Government Documents about the Nature and Extent of Xinjiang’s Extrajudicial Internment Campaign,” November 2019

In 2017, many of the internment camps were in former schools and other government buildings that had been securitized and otherwise repurposed to house detainees and prevent escapes. 214 214
Nathan Ruser, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, “Exploring Xinjiang’s detention system: The world’ most comprehensive database – 380+ facilities,”
In 2018, detainees in the initial camps were often transferred to larger facilities that had been specifically constructed as detention facilities. (For more on the closure of the camps and status of the physical infrastructure of the internment camp system, see text box “Evolution of the internment camp system and the larger system of mass incarceration in Xinjiang”.)

Detainees on their way to an internment camp.

Amnesty International interviewed 55 people – 39 men and 16 women – who spent time in internment camps and were later released. All of these former detainees were arbitrarily detained for what appears to be, by all reasonable standards, entirely lawful conduct; that is, without having committed any internationally recognized criminal offence. Their detention in internment camps violated numerous fundamental aspects of international human rights law. All of the detainees were denied due process during and after their initial detention. None were allowed access to legal counsel. None were provided with an arrest warrant or even a reason for their detention that included a credible allegation of a criminal offence recognized under international law. 215 215
See also: Human Rights Watch, “Free Xinjiang ‘Political Education’ Detainees: Muslim Minorities Held for Months in Unlawful Facilities,” 10 September 2017

Chinese Human Rights Defenders, “Criminal Arrests in Xinjiang Account for 21% of China’s Total in 2017: China’s Counter-Terror Campaign Indiscriminately Targets Ethnic &

Religious Minorities in Xinjiang,” 25 July 2018

The internment camp detention process appears to be operating outside the scope of the Chinese criminal justice system or other known domestic law. According to government documents and statements by government officials, applying criminal procedure would be inappropriate because the camps are not detention facilities and the people in the camps are there “voluntarily” and are not criminals. The government has publicly claimed that these facilities – which it refers to as “vocational training” or “transformation-through-education” centres – were set up as part of a national poverty alleviation programme or a deradicalization programme. Government cadres have been instructed to inform family members of people detained in camps that the detainees were not criminals. 216 216
The Xinjiang Papers: Austin Ramzy and Chris Buckley, “’Absolutely No Mercy’: Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims: More than 400 pages of internal Chinese documents expose an unprecedented inside look at the crackdown on ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.”, New York Times, 16 November 2019
In March 2019, Shohrat Zakir, governor of Xinjiang, described the camps as “boarding schools” and in December 2019, indicated that attendance in the camps was voluntary, saying “attendees are free to join or quit programmes at any time.” 217 217
Xinhua News, “Trainees in Xinjiang education, training program have all graduated: official”, 9 December 2019

Contrary to the government’s public statements, leaked government documents refer to people sent to these facilities as being “punished”. 218 218
Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy, New York Times, New York Times, “Document: What Chinese Officials Told Children Whose Families Were Put in Camps,” 16 November 2019
As demonstrated by the testimonies and other evidence below, attendance in the camps is not voluntary, and conditions in the camps are an affront to human dignity.

The initial detention

Former internment camp detainees Amnesty International interviewed were often detained without warning. Many were taken away from their homes in the middle of the night. 219 219
Amnesty International Interviews.
Others were called by the police or by their village administration office and told to report to a police station – often under the pretence of being requested to hand in their passport – and then detained once they arrived. 220 220
Amnesty International Interviews.
Several were pressured by government officials or employers to come back from working, studying, or living abroad and then detained shortly after returning, often at the airport or land border. 221 221
Amnesty International Interviews.

Aiman, a government cadre who participated in mass detentions in Xinjiang, told Amnesty how, in late 2017, police took people from their homes without warning, how family members of the detained people reacted, and what the role of government cadres was in the process:

I was there… The police would take people out of their houses… with hands handcuffed behind them, including women… and they put black hoods on them… The police had a list [of people to detain]… Nobody could resist. Imagine if, all of a sudden, a group [of police] enters [your home], cuffs you and puts [a black hood] over your head… [Family members of the people being detained] just asked why this was happening… We accompanied [the police]. [Cadres] did not do much [related to physically detaining people]. Our main duty was to calm down and comfort the relatives [of those being detained] and tell them these things happened all the time… It was very sad… [Afterwards] I cried… That night we made 60 arrests… That was just in one district [of many where people were being detained]… Every day they arrested more people. 222 222
Amnesty International Interviews.

Meryemgul, who also worked for the government during a period in which large numbers of detentions were made, also described the experience to Amnesty: “In many families, only women were left. In some houses, the door was locked because both parents are gone and the children are taken to boarding school.”

Ilyas, who worked for the government, was present on numerous calls with officials from all over Xinjiang in 2017. During these calls, officials were routinely asked to report the number of people from their areas who had been sent to camps. Ilyas told Amnesty that thousands of people were reported as having been sent to camps during most calls.

Reasons for detention

Some former detainees interviewed were provided with reasons for their detentions at the time they were initially detained; however, many were not given any reason until after arriving at an internment camp, and often not until being forced to “confess” to “crimes” shortly before they were released. 242 242
Amnesty International interviews.
Several were given a reason for their detention when they were detained and then a different reason when they were released. 243 243
Amnesty International interviews.
Some were never given any reason. 244 244
Amnesty International interviews.
“Until today, I don’t know why I was in the camp,” Mansur lamented. 245 245
Amnesty International interviews.

Former detainees told Amnesty International that the reasons they were given for their detention were often not tied to specific acts; rather, detainees were informed that they had been detained because they had been classified as “suspicious” or “untrustworthy” or as a “terrorist” or an “extremist”. 246 246
Amnesty International interviews.
The precise criteria for such classifications are not known; however, the government of China has used such terms – particularly “terrorist” and “extremist” – in over-broad ways in the context of counter-terrorism legislation. 247 247
Amnesty International, China: Draconian anti-terror law an assault on human rights, 4 March 2015

When specific acts were mentioned, they generally fell into a few broad categories. One category includes offences related to foreign countries. Numerous former detainees were detained for living, travelling, or studying abroad or for communicating with people abroad. 248 248
Amnesty International interviews.
Many were even detained simply for being “connected” with people who lived, travelled, studied, or communicated with people abroad. 249 249
Amnesty International interviews.

Another category of detainee includes those detained for offences related to using unauthorized software or digital communications technology. Many former detainees were detained for using or having forbidden software applications on their mobile phones, especially WhatsApp. 250 250
Amnesty International interviews.

Another common category includes anything related to religion. Former detainees were detained for reasons related to Islamic beliefs or practice, including working in a mosque, praying, having a prayer mat, or possessing a picture or a video with a religious theme. 251 251
Amnesty International interviews.

Other former detainees were detained for having too many children or otherwise violating China’s strict family planning policies. 252 252
Amnesty International interviews.
One former detainee said they had been detained for refusing to work for the government. 253 253
Amnesty International interviews.
Elnara, who while detained helped dozens of other inmates fill in “confession” forms on which they were required to list their “crimes”, said the most common reason she observed was “having multiple household registrations”, which is prohibited under Chinese law. 254 254
Amnesty International interviews.
(For more on confession forms, see Chapter 4.) One former detainee, who was accused of this offence just before her release, told Amnesty she had no idea that having multiple registrations was illegal or that she was still registered at her family’s home where she grew up. She believed the government was simply using this as a pretext to detain whomever it wanted. 255 255
Amnesty International interviews.

A few former detainees told Amnesty they had been detained after receiving explicit permission to do the very thing they were reportedly detained for. Aibek told Amnesty he was detained for travelling domestically, even though he had obtained prior approval to do so from the appropriate authorities. 256 256
Amnesty International interviews.
Bolat told Amnesty he was detained twice for travelling even though he had received permission from the appropriate authorities both times.

[After I was detained the second time] I asked the village chief [why I was detained]. He said, ‘We are doing what we are told. We don’t know why. All people who are travelling abroad go to the camp. You have no right to ask questions. If you ask why it will be seen as resistance. It will not be good for you. You will get answers in the camp.’ 257 257
Amnesty International interviews.

The reasons for detention that former detainees provided to Amnesty International are consistent with testimonial and documentary evidence gathered by journalists and other human rights investigators. 258 258
Foreign Policy, 48 Ways to Get Sent to a Chinese Concentration Camp: Something terrible is happening in Xinjiang, 3 September 2018
Most significantly, these stated reasons are broadly consistent with the official reasons given in the Karakax list and the Aksu list for detention and internment of individuals. 259 259
Ariane Zenz, Journal of Political Risk, “The Karakax List: Dissecting the Anatomy of Beijing’s Internment Drive in Xinjiang,” February 2020

Human Rights Watch, China: Big Data Program Target’s Xinjiang Muslims – Leaked List of Over 2000 Detainees Demonstrates Automated Repression, 9 December 2020

The Aksu list includes government records about more than 2,000 people in that prefecture detained and interned after being flagged by the IJOP. The list reveals that “suspicious” behaviour often leading to arrest and detention included regular religious practice, such as reciting the Qur’an or wearing religious clothing; having more children than permitted by China’s policies; using certain computer software, such as Skype or a VPN; travelling abroad, or travelling domestically without permission; having “extremist thoughts”; being untrustworthy; or being young. 260 260
Human Rights Watch, China: Big Data Program Target’s Xinjiang Muslims – Leaked List of Over 2000 Detainees Demonstrates Automated Repression, 9 December 2020

The Karakax list includes government records for more than 3,000 people. These records include the official reasons why many of these people were detained and interned as well as some of the reasoning behind why certain detainees were released or not released from the camps. The document also reveals significant information about how the government collected detailed information about family members and social networks of detainees. 261 261
Ivan Watson and Ben Westcott, “Watched, judged, detained: Leaked Chinese government records reveal detailed surveillance reports on Uyghurs families and Beijing’s justification for mass detentions.

Isobel Yeung and Nicole Bozorgmir, Vice News, “China Targets Muslims for ‘Re-Education’ Camps – and Spies on Their families: The vast majority of people were interned for mundane behavior like wearing a hijab, having “thick beards,” visiting a foreign website or applying for a passport,” 17 February 2020

Maya Wang, Human Rights Watch, “More Evidence of China’s Horrific Abuses in Xinjiang,” 20 February 2020
An analysis of reasons revealed that they fall broadly into eight non-mutually exclusive categories, including untrustworthiness, anything religion-related, and anything linked to locations abroad. The most common reason for detention was violating China’s birth control policies. 262 262
Ariane Zenz, Journal of Political Risk, “The Karakax List: Dissecting the Anatomy of Beijing’s Internment Drive in Xinjiang,” February 2020

According to another internal document leak – the so-called China Cables – hundreds of thousands of individuals have been detained for using certain mobile phone applications. The documents also explicitly instruct authorities to detain Uyghurs who also hold foreign citizenship and to work towards repatriation back to China of those living abroad. 263 263
“The China Cables”: Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, “Exposed: China’s Operating Manuals for Mass Internment and Arrest by Algorithm.: A new leak of highly classified Chinese government documents reveals the operations manual for running the mass detention camps in Xinjiang and exposed the mechanism of the region’s system of mass surveillance.” 24 November 2019
Journalists have reported that government officials were required to fulfil detention quotas and that sometimes people were essentially detained randomly. 264 264
For reporting on quotas See Human Rights Watch, China: Big Data Program Target’s Xinjiang Muslims – Leaked List of Over 2000 Detainees Demonstrates Automated Repression, 9 December 2020

Radio Free Asia, Nearly Half of Uyghurs in Xinjiang’s Hotan Targeted For Re-Education Camps, 9 October 2017

Radio Free Asia, Xinjiang Authorities Up Detentions in Uyghur Majority Areas of Ghulja City, 19 March 2018

The Xinjiang Victims Database documents the testimonies of former internment camp detainees, their families, and other witnesses. 265 265
Xinjiang Victims Database
While data collected by the project do not necessarily represent the interned population as a whole, analysis of several thousand testimonies shows that the most commonly stated reasons for detention are related to religion, going abroad, having contact with the outside world, and the behaviour of the detainees’ relatives. Additionally, an analysis of the official reasons for which over 1500 individuals were detained indicates that other common reasons include allegations of “separatism”, violating birth policies, and “extremism”, as well as other vague justifications, such being untrustworthy or disturbing public order. 266 266
Xinjiang Victims Database

Guilt by association

Analysed together with the Aksu and Karakax lists and with other testimonial and documentary evidence gathered by journalists, the testimonial evidence Amnesty International has gathered demonstrates that members of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang are often detained on the basis of what can only be considered “guilt by association”. Many were interned as a result of their relationships, or perceived or alleged relationships, with family, friends, or community members – many, if not most, of whom were themselves not guilty of any internationally recognized criminal offence. Many former detainees were detained for having a family member who was considered suspicious or untrustworthy or who was accused of being an “extremist”, “separatist”, or “terrorist”, or for contacts with others facing these accusations. 267 267
Amnesty International interviews.

Amnesty International interviewed several former residents of Xinjiang who believe their own behaviour was the reason their family members were detained. Shamil went abroad and did not return on time. He told Amnesty [he suspects] his father was sent to a camp because of his decision. 268 268
Amnesty International interviews.
Kuanish, who also did not return from abroad on time, said the police called him from his house in China and had his son ask him to return from abroad and tell him the family would be sent to the camps if he did not. Since then, he has not been able to communicate with his family. “I do not know where my children are,” Kuanish said. 269 269
Amnesty International interviews.
Azhar, a former detainee, told Amnesty that his father was taken to an internment camp because his father “let” him go abroad after he was released. “When my father was about to be detained, the police called me and said come [back to China]… They said we will let your father go if you come back.” 270 270
Amnesty International interviews.

In addition to often being grounds for detention, guilt by association is now a pervasive theme in the life of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and a tool for the social control that the Chinese authorities impose on the population. As illustrated in a variety of ways throughout this report, the behaviour of members of ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang affects their family, their community, and the group as a whole. Credible threats against family members are used to control or modify behaviour.

Interrogations at police stations

The majority of former detainees Amnesty International interviewed were interrogated at police stations before being sent to a camp. 271 271
Amnesty International interviews.
A minority were sent directly to the camps without being interrogated. Most of the interrogations focused on what the person had purportedly been detained for. Interrogations usually lasted several hours. A few detainees reported being extorted during the interrogations, saying they were told that if they paid the police a bribe they would not be sent to a camp. 272 272
Amnesty International interviews.

The content of the interrogations in police stations was very similar to interrogations former detainees reported going through inside the camps and after their release. Many former detainees said they were asked the same questions over and over again by different government officials during multiple interrogations over the course of months and even years while in detention. 273 273
Amnesty International interviews.

Many detainees were tortured or otherwise ill-treated during the interrogations in police stations before being transferred to the camps. 274 274
Amnesty International interviews.
Interrogations and torture were often carried out by members of the domestic security police, known as Guobao 275 275
The National Security Protection Unit, a secretive unit responsible for domestic political threats.
; sometimes these acts were also carried out by local police. Former detainees were often interrogated in “tiger chairs” – steel chairs with affixed leg irons and handcuffs that restrain the body, often in painful positions, to an extent that it is essentially immobile. 276 276
Amnesty International interviews.
Some detainees were hooded and shackled during interrogations. 277 277
Amnesty International interviews.
Kanat, who spent a year in the camps for visiting Kazakhstan, said he was interrogated for several hours while immobilized in a tiger chair: “I was seated on a metal chair. Hands were cuffed. I was interrogated. My feet were also cuffed… It’s a metal chair that contains a board that your hands are cuffed to. And there is an iron base that you put your legs inside. [The interrogation started late at night,] I was questioned until 3am.” 278 278
Amnesty International interviews.

Many former detainees told Amnesty they were held in crowded conditions before being sent to the camps. Nurislam, who said he was held in a detention centre 279 279
A few detainees were held detention facilities other than police stations before being sent to camps, including in “detention centers”.
for three weeks before being transferred to a camp, told Amnesty he was forced to stand in a small, crowded cell with 50 other inmates all day. “We don’t even put cows in that terrible condition… We slept side by side touching each other,” he said. 280 280
Amnesty International interviews.

Saken also reported being held in a detention centre for several weeks before being transferred to a camp. He told Amnesty his cell was very cold and extraordinarily crowded, with nearly 60 men living in a space that he estimated to be 30m2:

There was a large bed in the cell; people used to sit on the edge of it, but there was not enough space. We let the elderly people sit on the bed… [The rest of us] had no place to sit or sleep… We slept in turns [because there was not enough space]. The floor was cold and wet. I slept for [weeks] on the floor with no mattress or carpet… It was [winter] already. Our clothes were very thin. It was very cold… And it smelled horrible in the cell.

Saken also told Amnesty he could hear female detainees in the cells on the floor above him screaming and crying at night. “After they started crying, we started crying too, because we were worried about them.” 281 281
Amnesty International interviews.

Journalists and other organizations have reported approximately a dozen similar accounts of torture and other ill-treatment, including beatings, overcrowded conditions, and sleep deprivation in police stations and detention centres. 282 282
See Human Rights Watch, “

Eradicating Ideological Viruses: China’s Campaign of Repression Against Xinjiang’s Muslims,”

, 9 September 2018

See also Xinjiang Victims Database entries: “Baqytali Nur”

“Erbaqyt Otarbai”



“Tursynbek Qabi”





“Abduhebir Rejep”

“Kong Yuanfeng”

“Qaster Musahan”

“Mihrigul Tursun”



“Memettursun Omer”

Medical examinations and biometric data collection

Before being sent to a camp, nearly all detainees were subjected to a medical examination. Bakyt, a former detainee who worked at a hospital where some people were examined before they were sent to the camps, witnessed large numbers of detainees being brought to the hospital, as well as part of the medical examination process.

In [the city I lived in] there were four hospitals – infection, military, traditional, and regular. In 2017 they all started being used for people sent to re-education camps… At first it was Uyghurs and Hui. They were everyday people, but police treated them as serious criminals. There were six guards per person [brought for a medical examination]. Their eyes were covered, [their heads] hooded, and their hands were cuffed [when they arrived at the hospital]. The whole medical examination was top secret… [The staff at the hospital] had to make sure they were healthy. [The staff] had to draw their blood to make sure they were healthy… They were all young. I was there helping with [redacted]… The targets were young graduates. [At the time, at the hospital I worked at it was] mainly Huis who studied [abroad]. 283 283
Amnesty International interview

Alison Killing and Megha Rajagopalan, BuzzFeed News, What They Saw: Ex-Prisoners Detail The Horrors of China’s Detention Camps, 27 August 2020

Nearly all former detainees told Amnesty International that in addition to undergoing medical exams they were required to allow government officials to collect their biometric data. This almost always included multiple photographs, fingerprints, an iris scan, a voice recording, and a writing sample. Biometric data was often collected at police stations. Former detainees said blood samples were taken. “Then we went to a police station for what I think was a DNA [sample]… They took our blood, spread it on something, and put it in a plastic wrap,” Bakyt told Amnesty when describing what happened after being detained. 284 284
Amnesty International interviews.

These reports of health checks and biometric data collection are consistent with other former detainee accounts reported elsewhere and with reports of widespread campaigns for biometric data collection from all people in Xinjiang, not just those sent to the camps. 285 285
Human Rights Watch, China: Minority Region Collects DNA from Millions – Private Information Gathered by Police, Under Guise of Public Health Program

New York Times, China Uses DNA to Track Its People, With the Help of American Expertise, 21 February 2019

After undergoing a medical exam and having their biometric data collected, nearly all detainees were taken to internment camps. Nearly all were handcuffed while being transferred to the camps. Many were hooded and shackled. 286 286
Amnesty International interviews.
“You can’t see through the hood. You can’t see where you are… I was terrified about where I was being taken,” Elnara said. 287 287
Amnesty International interviews.

Many were driven to the camps in vans or buses with large numbers of detainees. 288 288
Amnesty International interviews.
Khaina, who was sent to a camp for visiting Kazakhstan, told Amnesty about being transferred to the facility: “They came in the morning. The police entered our cell [in the police station]. They put a black hood [on me]. Handcuffed me. And dragged me to the bus. And then took us to the camp,” she said. 289 289
Amnesty International interviews.
Zeynepgul, an older woman who believes she was detained for praying, told Amnesty she was taken from a police station in the middle of the night, handcuffed to another woman, put into a truck with about 20 other detainees from her village, and then driven to a camp. 290 290
Amnesty International interviews.

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Male detainees sit silently in their cell.

Chapter 4

Life Inside the Internment Camps

Detention conditions

Amnesty International interviewed 55 people – 39 men and 16 woman – who were detained in internment camps in Xinjiang since 2017. These former detainees provided a broadly consistent description of life in the camps. The vast majority of them were detained for between nine and 18 months; many were detained in two or more camps.

Amnesty International used high-resolution satellite imagery to identify the facilities in which some former detainees reported being detained to corroborate their testimony. Baseline imagery from 2016 was used to compare changes from 2017 up to May 2021. Amnesty was able to accurately geolocate 22 camps where 17 former detainees were held. Amnesty was also able to likely locate seven other camps where ten former detainees were held. Satellite imagery at the locations described by former detainees from the time the detainees were held displayed new features, including internal fencing, external walls, guard towers, guard posts, people present in compounds, large numbers of cars and buses, and other new and temporary structures. (For more on satellite imagery of the internment camps see Chapter 6.)

From the moment they entered a camp, detainees’ lives were extraordinarily regimented under conditions that are an affront to human dignity. They were stripped of their personal autonomy, with every aspect of their lives dictated to them. Detainees who deviated from the conduct prescribed by camp authorities – even in the most seemingly innocuous ways – were reprimanded and regularly physically punished, often along with their cellmates.

Two female detainees stand “on duty” monitoring their cellmates while they sleep.

Detainees had no privacy. They were monitored at all times, including when they ate, slept, and used the toilet. They were forbidden to talk freely with other detainees. When detainees were permitted to speak – to other detainees, guards, or teachers – they were required to speak in Mandarin Chinese, a language many of them, especially older people and those from more rural areas in Xinjiang, did not speak or understand. 305 305
Amnesty International interviews.
Some detainees were physically punished if they spoke in a language other than Mandarin. 306 306
Amnesty International interviews.
The camps were set up so that it was impossible to practise religion, and former detainees said any sign of religious practice was punished. “We can’t even touch our face, or they would suspect us of praying,” Azizbek said. 307 307
Amnesty International interviews.

Detainees were constantly evaluated. According to former detainees, as well as to the leaked government document known as the Telegram, detainees were given scores reflecting their “ideological transformation, study and training, and compliance with discipline.” Detainees’ behaviour affected their scores, which in turn factored into the treatment they received in the camp, including “rewards, punishments, and family visits”, as well as the timing of their released. 308 308
The Telegram (previously cited), para. 2.

According to the Telegram, detainees were supposed to be able to communicate regularly with their families. 309 309
The Telegram (previously cited), para. 13.
Some former detainees were indeed able to call home weekly or monthly. 310 310
Amnesty International interviews.
A few were able to see family members in person a few times during their detention. 311 311
Amnesty International interviews.
Some detainees, though, were never able to call or see their families. 312 312
Amnesty International interviews.
All calls and interactions were monitored and recorded. 313 313
Amnesty International interviews.
Detainees were coached on what to say to their family members. 314 314
Amnesty International interviews.

The former internment camp detainee testimony gathered by Amnesty corroborates many aspects of other accounts from former detainees reported by journalists and other organizations. 315 315
For other detainee accounts from internment camps See Alison Killing and Megha Rajagopalan, BuzzFeed News, What They Saw: Ex-Prisoners Detail The Horrors of China’s Detention Camps, 27 August 2020

The New Yorker, Inside Xinjiang’s Prison State: Survivors of China’s campaign of persecution reveal the scope of the devastation, 26 February 2021

Los Angeles Times, “Will they let us live?’ Inside Xinjiang, survivors of China’s internment camps speak, 17 December 2020

The Believer, Weather Reports: Voices from Xinjiang – Untold Stories from China’s Gulag State, 1 October 2019

Nathan Vanderklippe, Globe and Mail, “’I felt like a slave:’ Inside China’s complex system of incarceration and control of minorities: In Kazakhstan, former detainees recount brutal treatment, political indoctrination, forced labour and surveillance,” 31 March 2019 , Xinjiang Victims Database, “Victim-Centered Primary Evidence for the Mass Incarcerations and Immense Rights Violations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region”, 9 May 2012

and for more accounts See Xinjiang documentation project, Lived Experiences: Primary Accounts

Arrival at the camps

Upon arrival at the camps, detainees were searched, their personal effects were confiscated, and they were made to remove certain items of clothing, including shoelaces, belts, buttons, and anything else that could be used as a weapon or as an implement with which to take their own life, just as is often done in prisons. 316 316
Amnesty International interviews.
Some women detainees had their hair cut off after arriving, and some men had their heads and beards shaved. 317 317
Amnesty International interviews.

Shortly after being searched, detainees were taken to their cells. Cells in internment camps were basic rooms, usually holding about eight to 20 people. Men and women were detained in separate cells. The cells normally contained two-level or three-level bunkbeds and small stools or chairs. Most detainees had their own bed, but some shared a bed. A few former detainees stated that all people in their cell shared one large bed, known as a kang, which was on the ground, and that people were packed “shoulder to shoulder”. A few former detainees stated that when there were more people than beds, some people slept on the floor. There is usually a TV in the cell and often a Chinese flag on the wall. Windows, if they existed, were barred and usually blacked out. There was a loudspeaker in the room through which camp staff spoke to detainees. There were several closed-circuit television cameras – usually four – in each cell. Cells often had lists of camp rules and “crimes” hanging on the wall. Most detainees reported that the lights in the cell remained on at all times, including during the night.

Cell doors often had two holes, one for the guards stationed in the hallway to look in and another to pass food through. Cell doors were often positioned so that detainees could not see any other rooms from their door. The door to the cell was chained to the wall. 318 318
Amnesty International interviews.
Nurislam told Amnesty International how humiliating it was to go under the chain every time he needed to leave the cell. “The door is just half open. It was chained to the wall. We had to crawl under the chain one by one, like dogs,” he said. 319 319
Amnesty International interviews.

Classification of detainees

According to government documents and testimony from former detainees, detainees were placed into one of three classifications or categories: “normal” management, “strict” management, and “very strict” management. 320 320
For journalist articles See Gerry Shih, Association Press (AP), “China’s mass indoctrination camps evoke Cultural Revolution,” 17 May 2018

Alison Killing and Megha Rajagopalan, BuzzFeed News, What They Saw: Ex-Prisoners Detail The Horrors of China’s Detention Camps, 27 August 2020

See also, The Telegram (previously cited), para. 14.
Detainees in different classifications were detained in the same camps; however, within camps detainees were placed in cells only with other detainees in the same classification. 321 321
Amnesty International interviews.
Detainees were required to wear uniforms corresponding to their classification. According to the majority of former detainees Amnesty interviewed, those in the normal management classification had blue uniforms, those in strict management had yellow uniforms, and those in very strict management had red. 322 322
Amnesty International interviews.
A detainee’s classification could be adjusted in accordance with their “performance and point situation [that is, their score]”. 323 323
The Telegram (previously cited), para. 14.
According to leaked government documents, being placed in the normal management group was a necessary condition for being released from the camp (for more on criteria for release see Chapter 6). 324 324
For other report of “scores” See Gerry Shih, Association Press (AP), “China’s mass indoctrination camps evoke Cultural Revolution,” 17 May 2018

The exact reasons that specific detainees were placed in different categories were not well understood by former detainees; however, there was a general belief among former detainees interviewed by Amnesty that those who were detained for reasons related to religion were more likely to be placed in the two stricter categories. 325 325
Amnesty International interviews.
According to a former detainee who also worked in a camp, the normal management group was for “ordinary crimes”, such as having prohibited software on your phone; strict management was for “crimes” related to religion; and very strict management was for imams and for people who had previously been convicted of “serious crimes”. 326 326
Amnesty International interviews.
Some former detainees believed the classification system was, at least in part, based on a detainee’s ethnicity, because Uyghurs were much more likely to be placed in one of the stricter categories. 327 327
Amnesty International interviews.

Former detainees stated that they observed differently classified detainees being treated differently. 328 328
Amnesty International interviews.
“I saw men from the strictest group… They looked terrible… I saw some whose toenails were missing,” Aisha said. Arnur, a detainee who also worked in the camp for part of the time she was interned, described some of the differences in treatment she observed, especially related to detainees’ ability to move around the camp and to communicate with family members.

Most of the people in the strict management group were there for being religious clerics or somehow involved with religion… I know this because interrogations [for detainees] sometimes took place in the staff room where [I spent time]… [In the camp I worked in,] the normal management group learned Chinese and were allowed to walk in the yard; the strict [were allowed to] sit on their beds [some of the time]; and the very strict learned in their cell, were not allowed to move [from their cell], and never got fresh air… The normal group got to make a call once a week and the strict group once every two weeks and visits once a month… The very strict group was not permitted to have visitors. 329 329
Amnesty International interviews.

With two exceptions, all the former detainees Amnesty interviewed were in the normal management category when they arrived in the camp. 330 330
Amnesty International interviews.
As a result, nearly all the conclusions in this report – like nearly all the testimonial evidence gathered about the camps from journalists and other organizations – are based on evidence provided by former detainees who experienced only the normal management treatment. However, given the second-hand accounts about the two stricter categories – which are observations made by former detainees and staff who were in the same camps as detainees in the stricter categories – it stands to reason that detainees in the stricter categories were treated much more severely and were much less likely to have been released from a camp and instead remain detained or have been transferred to prison.

Baurzhan, one of the two former detainees Amnesty International spoke with who was in the strict category, was given a yellow uniform for part of his stay. His “offence” was related to religion, also suggesting that he was likely in the strict management category during that time. Some of his treatment appears to have been demonstrably worse than that experience by detainees in the normal management category: He was detained for over two years, was not allowed to call family members when others in his camp not detained for religious crimes were, he was never allowed out of his cell, and his feet were continuously shackled together for several months. “For two years, my family didn’t know if I was alive or dead,” Baurzhan told Amnesty. 331 331
Amnesty International interviews.

Daily routine

The life of camp detainees was highly regimented and in many ways reflected, or was even worse than, life in prisons in China. With the exception of a few former detainees describing the portion of their detention that took place in early 2017, every detainee stated that nearly every aspect of their lives in the camps was prescribed, including the position in which they sat, when they stood, and where they looked, and that this was true for every minute of the day. 332 332
Amnesty International interviews.
Khaina, who said she was detained for having WhatsApp on her phone, told Amnesty International how strict the schedule was and how physically draining each day was:

It was like a prison… [Every day] you got up at 5am and had to make your bed, and it had to be perfect. Then there was a flagraising ceremony and an ‘oathtaking’. Then you went to the canteen for breakfast. Then to the classroom. Then lunch. Then to the classroom. Then dinner. Then another class. Then bed. Every night two people had to be ‘on duty’ [monitoring the other cellmates] for two hours… There was not a minute left for yourself. You were exhausted. 333 333
Amnesty International interviews.

Aitugan, who said he was detained in early 2017 after being labelled a terrorist for travelling to Kazakhstan and for having attended a religious school, told Amnesty International the daily regimentation became much stricter in late 2017, to the point where even resting and the direction of one’s gaze were regulated:

Before October 2017, it was a little relaxing in class. We could go to the canteen [to eat] by ourselves and we could sit relaxed in class. But after the national [security] meeting in October [2017] it became very serious… We had to be ‘on duty’ at night. We were escorted to the canteen. We had no more contact with our family… We had to ‘sit tight’. We could not even turn our heads from the TV… [After it became strict] we got up at 5am. Breakfast was done at 7. Class at 8. We had to [walk] to class through a two-metre-high metal fence with metal ceiling; it was basically a cage… [We were escorted] to class by two guards with clubs… There was a bucket in the back of class [to urinate]. You needed permission to go [defecate]… Rest [after lunch] was mandatory, with heads on desks for two hours. You were punished if you lifted your head. 334 334
Amnesty International interviews.

Sitting still

Many former detainees reported that during the first few days, weeks, or sometimes months after arriving at the internment camps – before they were required to attend classes – they were forced to do nothing but sit still for nearly the entire day. The only breaks were for meals or to sleep. Nearly all former detainees were forced to sit or kneel for hours on end. 335 335
Amnesty International interviews.
“We were given a small stool. We were made to sit in two lines, with straight backs and hands on knees, all day. If one guy [in the cell] moved then the guards outside would bang on the door with a baton and shout,” Daulet said. 336 336
Amnesty International interviews.

Many former detainees reported that this position was very painful for their knees and other parts of their body; some developed haemorrhoids and other health problems. 337 337
Amnesty International interviews.
“We had to sit straight… In our room there were old women. Their hands and feet swelled up,” Meryemgül said. 338 338
Amnesty International interviews.
Many reported that inmates were physically punished if they were unwilling or unable to sit straight. 339 339
Amnesty International interviews.
Many reported not being permitted to look anywhere but straight ahead. 340 340
Amnesty International interviews.
Meryemgül said that she was told that if the people monitoring her cell on the cameras noticed anyone moving their lips, guards would deduct from their scores. 341 341
Amnesty International interviews.

Former detainees often had to sing “red” songs – that is, revolutionary songs that praise the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Republic of China – or to recite basic Chinese words while they sat still, or in a few instances stood still; others were made to watch Chinese propaganda films. Some literally had to do nothing except sit perfectly still on a small chair or stool in their room. 342 342
Amnesty International interviews.
“I just sat on a stool for three months from morning to 11pm… There was no class, nothing,” Aldiyar recalled. 343 343
Amnesty International interviews.

Ibrahim, who said he was sent to a camp for visiting Kazakhstan, told Amnesty he was in a camp for several months before guards started taking him to class.

During the days before classes [started] we had to sit on stools [all day]. For 16 hours a day we had to sit on stools with our hands on our knees. We were up at 6am, then sit on stools, then breakfast… Then sit until lunch. Sometimes we were given a book [to learn from]. We could not talk to other people. We had our lunch sitting on the stool. During lunch we could have a nap of an hour or less, sometimes not at all… Then we sit again until it gets dark. 344 344
Amnesty International interviews.

Ramazan, who also said he was detained for visiting Kazakhstan, told Amnesty that for the first two months after he arrived at the camp, he was forced to sit still in an uncomfortable position for hours each day:

After breakfast we had to sit on our beds with our hands on our knees and a straight back. If we moved, they spoke to us through a loudspeaker [in the room] and said, ‘Don’t move.’ Then, around 11:30 or 12 they brought lunch. Then from 12:30 to 2 we could lie down [on our beds]. Then at 2pm they told us to maintain the seated position. We sat like that until dinner, but they sometimes said through the loudspeaker that we had five minutes to move, lie down, or urinate… Around 7pm we had dinner, and then we watched TV [while sitting]… At 9pm they ordered us to go to bed… We spent [the first] two months without leaving the room, [except] during the day they took us to the toilet, which was outside the room, to [defecate]. They took us two times a day… We never went outside. 345 345
Amnesty International interviews.

Based on former detainee testimony, it is unclear whether sitting still and doing nothing was a deliberate policy to demoralize or break the will or spirit of newly arrived detainees s or if it was a consequence of the fact that at the start of the government campaign of mass incarceration certain camps were not set up to provide any formalized instruction. It is plausible that it was a deliberate policy in certain camps at certain times but not in others.

Inadequate hygiene, restrictions on urination and defecation, and insufficient food and water

Detainees were woken every morning, usually at 5 or 6am, by an alarm coming through the loudspeaker or by a loud knock on the cell door. They were required to get up immediately, quickly make their bed, and then brush their teeth and wash their face in a sink. Most cells did not have sinks and detainees had to crawl under the chain attaching the cell door to the wall and then be escorted to a washroom by a guard. 346 346
Amnesty International interviews.
Detainees were rarely permitted to shower. Some detainees showered once a week; others reported not showering for weeks or even months after they arrived. 347 347
Amnesty International interviews.
A few former detainees reported having showers in their cells and that they were monitored on video while showering. 348 348
Amnesty International interviews.
“In the new camp, beside the toilet there was a shower and a sink… There was a small partition around the shower, but it is not very tall. If you are standing in the shower, they can see you [on camera],” Auelbek said. 349 349
Amnesty International interviews.

Detainees required permission to use the toilet. 350 350
Amnesty International interviews.
Some cells had squat toilets; others had a bucket. “Even to go urinate in the bucket [inside the cell] we had to get permission from the guard first,” Ibrahim said. 351 351
Amnesty International interviews.
Detainees were monitored by cameras when using the toilet. Guards routinely shouted at detainees if they did not go to the bathroom quickly. 352 352
Amnesty International interviews.
“They used to give us one minute to [use the bucket] or they would yell at us,” Sukhrab said. 353 353
Amnesty International interviews.

Former detainees were permitted to use the toilet only at certain times. Aibek, who spent a year in a camp, told Amnesty he was made to go long periods without being able to use a proper toilet:

At 6am they let us go out one by one to wash and use the toilet… There was a bucket in the cell… Even in the morning there was no guarantee we’ll be let out [to use the toilet]. Sometimes we went 24 hours without being allowed to use the toilet… The bucket was for [urinating]; if you had to [defecate] then you had to use the intercom and they would send two guards… and then you went out under the chain. Here you had to squat and put hands on head [when you exited the cell]… the process was like in a prison. 354 354
Amnesty International interviews.

After washing and using the toilet, detainees had breakfast, which was either eaten in their cells or at the canteen. Detainees were given very little time to eat, and many reported they got very little to eat or drink. 355 355
Amnesty International interviews.
“They didn’t give us water at night. I was thirsty all the time. We got just half a cup [of water] at meals,” Aliya told Amnesty International. 356 356
Amnesty International interviews.

“Red” songs were nearly always sung before meals and often throughout the day (see below). 357 357
Amnesty International interviews.
After breakfast, detainees attended a flag-raising ceremony. 358 358
Amnesty International interviews.
During the ceremony, detainees stood at attention and sang the national anthem. 359 359
Amnesty International interviews.

Insufficient exercise, fresh air, and natural light

The majority of former detainees reported rarely, if ever, being allowed outside during their detention, except when walking from their cells to classes if the classroom was in another building. 360 360
Amnesty International interviews.
A minority were given a short time outside each day, often to do “military exercises”. 361 361
Amnesty International interviews.
Some were not allowed out at all for the first few months in the camps; later, they were given a few minutes a day during the remainder of their internment. 362 362
Amnesty International interviews.
Some were given time outside every couple of weeks. 363 363
Amnesty International interviews.
Anarbek, a former detainee who was also made to work as a guard at a camp said new detainees were not allowed outside during the first three months of their detention, after which they were allowed a half-hour outside per day. 364 364
Amnesty International interviews.
Talgat told Amnesty he was not permitted outside at all during the first half of his year-long detention, but in the second half he was permitted some time:

[For the first six months] we never saw sunlight. We were always in our cell. Only during interrogations [did we leave our cell]. One corner of the cell had [a window], but it was covered by a dark net. You could see a bit of the sky… We sat still all day. We ate food in our cell… The beds were in one room. Then there was another door beside the toilet, [which goes to a small area] with fresh air. There was a metal net [over this area]. We had one hour a day in this [outside enclosure]… before 2018 we would sit still all day. After 2018 we would sit still and then be allowed into that area. 365 365
Amnesty International interviews.

For detainees who walked to class in another building, that was often the only time they got to walk or leave their rooms during the day. 366 366
Amnesty International interviews.
“The second camp was worse because [classes were held in our room and] there was no walk to class, so we were never outside,” Meryemgül said. 367 367
Amnesty International interviews.
A few former detainees said the only time they were ever outside was to empty the bucket they and their cellmates urinated in. 368 368
Amnesty International interviews.
Zhaina, who said she was sent to the camp because she had WhatsApp on her phone, told Amnesty she was never able to get any exercise or have sunlight or fresh air.

There was no fresh air. There was no sunlight. The windows [in the cell] were blocked… The only opportunity to go outside was to take the trash out. We were never outside, except at the very beginning when there were few people. Once more people arrived, we never went out… and once the number grew they stopped taking us to the canteen and brought food to our room. 369 369
Amnesty International interviews.

Auelbek, who was detained for a reason related to religion, told Amnesty that during the three months he was detained in the first facility he was sent to, the only time he went outside was during an “evacuation” drill in case of an earthquake. “When we got out into the yard, we saw so many police pointing their guns at us, like we were enemies in a war.” 370 370
Amnesty International interviews.

Former detainees often reported that their rooms were very cold. 371 371
Amnesty International interviews.
Abzal, who was sent to camp in one of the coldest parts of Xinjiang, told Amnesty he spent part of the winter in a cell with no heat, and that the shoes detainees were given were very thin and provided practically no warmth. “It was really, really cold,” he said. 372 372
Amnesty International interviews.

Many former detainees reported that there was little or no natural light in their cells. 373 373
Amnesty International interviews.
The rooms usually had either no windows or one very small window, often covered. 374 374
Amnesty International interviews.
“There was a metal net over the window so no finger could reach the glass. And the window was covered by [political] slogans. You couldn’t see outside… we sat in a chair the whole day from December to April… during these four months we never saw the sun,” Aibek said. 375 375
Amnesty International interviews.

Night duty

At around 9 or 10pm, detainees were given a few moments to wash and use the toilet, and then they went to bed. Talking was forbidden at night. Some former detainees reported being made to sleep head-to-toe so they would be unable to communicate with each other at night. 376 376
Amnesty International interviews.
“You couldn’t talk. They regulated [how we were positioned when we] slept so that we couldn’t talk – your head was [positioned] next to someone’s feet,” Zarina told Amnesty International. 377 377
Amnesty International interviews.

All detainees were required to “work” one- or two-hour shifts monitoring their cellmates every night. 378 378
Amnesty International interviews.
The shifts were spent either walking continuously back and forth or around the cell, or sitting still on the edge of the bed. One former detainee reported that he was instructed to reposition people’s heads or lower the bedding if someone was not sleeping with their face visible and facing the camera. 379 379
Amnesty International interviews.
Some former detainees claimed this policy was instituted to ensure no one killed themselves. 380 380
Amnesty International interviews.
Several had no idea why they were on duty.

Aiday, who said he was detained for allegedly failing to get permission to travel domestically, told Amnesty that at night, detainees were responsible for monitoring each other and for ensuring their faces were always visible to the CCTV cameras in the cell:

The lights [in the cell] were always on. At 10pm we had to lie in bed. Two cellmates were on night watch. From 10 to 12, 12 to 2, 2 to 4, and 4 to 6… these two people are [always] walking between the window and the door. Their job was watching us. At night we had to sleep with head facing the camera and face uncovered. And, if not, they woke us and put us in the right position. 381 381
Amnesty International interviews.

Even when not on duty, it was difficult to sleep because of regular noise from the loudspeaker in the cell and because the lights in most cells were always on. 382 382
Amnesty International interviews.
Saken told Amnesty he never got more than a few hours’ sleep at night during the year he spent in a camp:

Normally, we slept from 10pm to 5am. And we are on watch for two hours a night… And cadres and police came into our cells [late at night a couple of times a week] and ordered us to write confessions… And the light was on 24/7. It was a strong light and it disturbed our sleep. We never got enough sleep… They claimed it was [a school]… but how can you learn anything if they don’t let you sleep? 383 383
Amnesty International interviews.

‘Education’ in internment camps

At some point after arriving in camp, nearly all detainees were subjected to highly regimented classes, either in person, via video lectures, or both. The classes were mostly about Chinese language, history, law, and “ideology”. Some involved memorizing and reciting red songs. The typical schedule included three or four hours of class after breakfast. Then detainees had lunch and a short “rest”, which often involved sitting still on a stool or with their heads still on their desks. 384 384
Amnesty International interviews.
After lunch there was another three or four hours of classes and then dinner, followed by a few hours to sit or kneel on a stool and silently “review” the day’s material or to watch more “educational” videos. 385 385
Amnesty International interviews.
At nearly all times during classes, detainees were required to look straight ahead and not to speak with their classmates.

Classes were usually held in classrooms outside the cells. Inmates from two or more cells were regularly brought together in one larger class with approximately 50 people. Former detainees also reported having classes in their cell.

Detainees often had to line up or sit and wait for hours in the morning because of the logistical constraints of transferring thousands of people from cells to classrooms, especially when they had to walk through narrow fenced enclosures – in essence cages – to get from the building where their cells were to the building where the classrooms were. 386 386
Amnesty International interviews.
Aibek told Amnesty he spent a large portion of the day waiting to be escorted to class: “After classes started, we got moving at 6am. It took two to three hours to send all inmates to class. The class was 1km away. The cage line, beginning from the dorm [and leading] to the class, was really narrow and we could only walk single file. It took two to three hours for everyone to get there.” 387 387
Amnesty International interviews.

While walking to the classroom – or anywhere else in the camp – detainees had to walk between yellow lines painted on the ground of the facility. 388 388
Amnesty International interviews.
Anyone who stepped on or over the lines risked physical punishment. Meryemgül, who said she had been sent to a camp because she refused to work for the government, told Amnesty she remembered a staff member speaking about the two yellow lines on the floor of the camp. The guard reportedly said, “‘You people went outside of the path. Here you will learn to go inside the path.’” 389 389
Amnesty International interviews.

Detainees were escorted to class by guards. Some guards had shields and electric batons. 390 390
Amnesty International interviews.
When travelling from the cell to the classroom, detainees sometime walked outside to another building but were almost always in some sort of caged enclosure. “The roads from the dorm to the classroom were surrounded by wires and armed guards who looked like they were ready to shoot you,” Aibek said. 391 391
Amnesty International interviews.
Detainees were often required to march to class in a military-type formation, shouting slogans. 392 392
Amnesty International interviews.
Meryemgül told Amnesty that inmates were required to march to and from class “like soldiers” and that while marching they were required to shout, “Study hard, elevate yourself, eliminate separatist forces, and long live Xi Jinping!” 393 393
Amnesty International interviews.

The teacher and guards entered the classroom using one door and the students entered through another, which, like the cell doors, was chained to the wall. Classes began and ended with the class thanking the teacher for their sacrifice. 394 394
Amnesty International interviews.
Students and teachers were physically separated at all times. Classrooms had a hard plastic, wooden, or metal divider, over a metre high, separating the students from the teachers and guards. 395 395
Amnesty International interviews.
A wire or metal screen often filled the space above the divider. Some former detainees and one person who worked as a guard at a camp reported that there were multiple guards with weapons in the classroom with them at all times. 396 396
Amnesty International interviews.
“[In my class] there were three guards on the same side as the teacher. They wore police uniforms… They wore bullet-proof vests… They had a metal shield that was about 1m high… One had a long spear; it was longer than the guard’s height.” 397 397
Amnesty International interviews.

Desks and stools in the classroom were often attached, and sometimes chained together. 398 398
Amnesty International interviews.
Former detainees reported being given short pencils to write with, or only the plastic tube of ink and tip from a disposable pen; they presumed this was because a full-size pencil or a pen could be used as a weapon. 399 399
Amnesty International interviews.
Kanat described his experience in the classroom:

Every day was almost the same… We were brought to a place where you had to sit for 17 hours. It was in another room in the same building. [In the classroom] there were five or six armed guards and a teacher. The door to the class was also chained, you must crawl to get in… The teacher was behind a barrier, maybe neck height. You could see them, but you couldn’t cross [the barrier]. The guards were on the teacher’s side. They taught us verses from Confucius. We had to read [the verses] out loud and repeat them hundreds of times. And there were loudspeakers in the classroom. Several times I heard [a voice on the loudspeaker saying], ‘Give more pressure.’ 400 400
Amnesty International interviews.

Detainees were made to sit absolutely straight while at their desks. Former detainees reported people being taken out of class and beaten or otherwise punished if they did not sit straight and look straight ahead. 401 401
Amnesty International interviews.
Meryemgul told Amnesty International that failure to sit straight could also affect a detainee’s score: “We had to sit straight with our hands behind our back. In our classroom, there were old women. Their hands and feet swelled up. If you missed your home, if you cried, they would deduct from your score – they gave scores to everyone – and they would say that your mind still had problems, that your ideas hadn’t changed.” 402 402
Amnesty International interviews.

Language training

Teaching Chinese was a primary objective of the “education” that detainees received in the camps. Speaking in any other language was forbidden and was a punishable offence. Language classes took up the majority of the time in a day. Nearly all former detainees reported having to regularly pass language exams and being required to learn a certain number of Chinese characters – often 3,000 – before being released. 403 403
Amnesty International interviews.
This is consistent with leaked government documents that stipulate regular examinations and state that test scores “will be aggregated to form study points, which are used to evaluate the effect of the education and training and form the main basis to determine whether a student has completed (their course).” 404 404
The Telegram (previously cited), para 10.
Inmates who failed to memorize words or songs were often physically punished. 405 405
Amnesty International interviews.

Detainees were sometimes divided according to their language abilities; however, many former detainees who spoke fluent Chinese reported being forced to sit in basic classes and many former detainees who did not speak any Chinese reported not understanding anything said in class for months. 406 406
Amnesty International interviews.
Many detainees expressed difficulty with the classes. “The classes were mainly Chinese language, but it wasn’t helpful. Each day they just wrote hundreds of characters on the board. We just copied. No one tried to explain,” Erkin told Amnesty International. 407 407
Amnesty International interviews.
“We were under pressure to learn 3,000 characters. There were many exams. I graduated from high school and it was hard for me. It was very hard for old people and for farmers,” Aitugan told Amnesty. 408 408
Amnesty International interviews.

Daulet, who spent a year in a camp for visiting Kazakhstan and for an alleged offence related to religion, told Amnesty how the language classes involved rote memorization:

During the class there was a Han teacher who wrote Chinese characters on a board and we just copied it without knowing what it was. That was it. We just wrote characters… It was just language… We were not allowed to speak Uyghur in class. If you did [speak a language other than Mandarin], you got punished. You were taken to a room with a tiger chair… I was taken twice. 409 409
Amnesty International interviews.

‘Political education’

Most former detainees reported attending some combination of history, law, and ideology classes or, as many former detainees referred to it, “political education”. These classes focused largely on forcibly indoctrinating detainees about the “evils” of Islam and about how prosperous, powerful, and “benevolent” China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and President Xi Jinping are. 410 410
Amnesty International interviews.
These classes were often taught by government officials or delivered on video by state-approved imams talking about religion, or judges and lawyers speaking about what the state classified as “terrorism”, “extremism”, and “separatism”. Many also involved films of CCP sessions or speeches by Xi Jinping, or propaganda plays about families turning into “terrorists”. Significant portions of the classes were devoted to red songs about the greatness of China, the CCP, or Xi Jinping. 411 411
Amnesty International interviews.
Some detainees were made to sing for hours on end until their throats became sore. 412 412
Amnesty International interviews.
Detainees were punished for not singing or for singing the songs incorrectly. 413 413
Amnesty International interviews.

Yerulan, who said he was detained for downloading WhatsApp and buying an illegal SIM card, told Amnesty he believed the classes were structured to prevent detainees from having and practising their religion:

I think the purpose [of the classes] was to destroy our religion and to assimilate us… They said that we couldn’t say ‘as-salamu alaykum’ and that if we were asked what our ethnicity was we should say ‘Chinese’… They said that you could not go to Friday prayers… And that it was not Allah who gave you all, it was Xi Jinping. You must not thank Allah; you must thank Xi Jinping for everything. 414 414
Amnesty International interviews.

Ehmet, who said he was detained for his relationship to a “suspicious” person, told Amnesty International he attended classes focused on pushing people away from Islam and from travelling abroad, and towards certain common social habits perceived to be “Chinese”.

They taught us not to visit other countries, to stay in China. That going abroad might give you the wrong ‘ideology’. They told us to start smoking and to drink alcohol. If you don’t [drink and smoke] it is a sign of being religious. We were told not to go to mosques when we were released, that you could get 20 years [in prison]… They told us to only greet people in Chinese. And to have your children watch only Chinese television. 415 415
Amnesty International interviews.

Anar, who was sent to a camp for reasons related to religion, told Amnesty his classes focused on the supposed “problems” with Islam:

We watched videos by… an official religious figure, about how we should follow the country’s law… there were three or four videos that we watched on repeat… In the video he says, ‘There is no such thing as jihad, don’t follow the terror idea, it is illegal to kill or do violence.’ We watched [the same] video for four hours a day, or for the whole day if there was an inspection. 416 416
Amnesty International interviews.

Khaina, who said she was detained for having a forbidden messaging application on her phone, told Amnesty that afternoons were spent in a class she described as propaganda about the greatness of China.

[T]here were ‘law’ classes, but it was not really law, it was ideology… It was about how a country should have one language… about how China was great and excellent, and how Kazakhstan was bad… And [they would show us a big] bridge that China built… and talk about fighting terrorism, and how those in the [re-education] camps were terrorists themselves… They were brainwashing us to say that without the Chinese Communist Party there was no China, no prosperity, and that Xi Jinping was great… They made us sing ‘Xi Jinping is the father of China, father of the world’. 417 417
Amnesty International interviews.

Kuanish, who was sent to multiple camps, told Amnesty that at the first camp he was made to watch videos about all the things the government did to help the poor and about all the sacrifices people made for China in World War II:

They also told us, ‘It took 39 million people to die to build a new China, and you Uyghurs are only 16 million… Why are you Uyghurs looking for something bad? Why don’t you enjoy your life?’ They used to show us wars between China and Japan. They used to make us write essays about how we thought and felt about the movie, what we thought about millions of deaths to build a new China. They repeated the same movies every day. They told us not to bite the hand that feeds you, and don’t spit in the water you are drinking. We would ask what our crime was. They would say, ‘The fact that you are talking back right now is a crime in itself,’ that you shouldn’t speak. We would sit there quietly.

Three or four people came during the day and lectured us. They would make us memorize [political] slogans, law, and tell us that the Communist Party was good. We had to sit and listen and memorize… In the second camp they would show us photos of Uyghurs who left for Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan, and say that ‘This guy is in prison for so many years, this guy for so many years.’ They said that if you go [abroad] we will catch you and detain you… This is how they would make the day go. 418 418
Amnesty International interviews.

These former detainees’ accounts of political education classes are consistent with testimony given by other former detainees to journalist and other human rights investigators. 419 419
See Alison Killing and Megha Rajagopalan, BuzzFeed News, What They Saw: Ex-Prisoners Detail The Horrors of China’s Detention Camps, 27 August 2020

Human Rights Watch, Eradicating Ideological Viruses: China’s Campaign of Repression Against Xinjiang’s Muslims, 9 September 2018

Interrogations, forced ‘confessions’, and ‘self-criticism’

Detainees were questioned or interrogated regularly. The manner and frequency of the interrogations appears to vary widely from camp to camp and person to person. Some former detainees reported being interrogated once or twice during their entire stay; others reported weekly interrogations. As during the interrogations in police stations, the interrogations in camps focused on the detainees’ religious practices, foreign contacts, and relationships with “suspicious” people. 420 420
Amnesty International interviews.
Numerous former detainees reported being forced to “confess” to their “crimes” during interrogations. Some told Amnesty they had actually done what they were being accused of (for example, travelling abroad or downloading WhatsApp), so while they did not consider their actions criminal, they considered their confession to be honest. 421 421
Amnesty International interviews.

Dariga told Amnesty that detainees were periodically told to write four types of reports:

We had to write ‘experience reports’, which were mainly about our feelings after watching videos of Xi Jinping’s speeches, the 19th Party Congress, or other political propaganda videos. Another report was called ‘statement of repentance’, in which we used to write about how we regretted that we had committed those mistakes; in my case it was installing WhatsApp, which could potentially bring harm to the leadership of the CCP and the country. We also wrote letters of apology and guarantee, where we would acknowledge what we have done was wrong and basically guarantee the conditions of our release from the camp, [and] promise that we would not talk about anything about camps. 422 422
Amnesty International interviews.

Many interrogations took place in rooms where detainees sat across a desk from a government official and did not involve any explicit ill-treatment. Many others took place in punishment rooms, which were usually in the basements of the camp, and often involved torture and other ill-treament. Aldiyar, who was detained after having worked in Kazakhstan, told Amnesty how he was interrogated in a room in the basement of his camp:

[Security agents] took me to an underground room and put my legs into an iron bar. My hands were handcuffed to the chair. They asked me about my biography. Where was I born, when did I start school, where did I go after high school, what did I study. I told them I went to Kazakhstan. They asked me how many times I visited, where I went, and where I stayed. They asked for the names of my relatives and what [my relatives] did, did they pray?… They asked which cities in Kazakhstan I visited, which countries I visited. They also asked about [my siblings]… They asked: ‘When you were in Kazakhstan did you learn how to pray?’ 423 423
Amnesty International interviews.

Detainees were also required to write letters of “confession” or “self-criticism” in which they admitted to their “crimes”. Some former detainees reported having to write self-criticism letters once or twice during their internment; others reported this was a weekly or bi-weekly activity. 424 424
Amnesty International interviews.
Former detainees reported being given a list of “crimes” – usually the list of 75 outward manifestations of extremists behaviour– from which to choose two to “confess” to. 425 425
Amnesty International interview

see Cia Siqi, Global Times, Xinjiang counties identify 75 forms of religious extremism”, 25 December 2014
Former detainees told Amnesty they believed that people who admitted – or were made to admitted – certain crimes, particularly crimes related to religion, were given prison sentences. 426 426
Amnesty International interviews.

In addition to confessing one’s “crimes”, self-criticism entailed describing in writing what a detainee had done wrong, explaining that the education they were receiving enabled them to recognize the error of their ways and “transform” their thinking, expressing gratitude to the government for this education, and promising not to return to their old habits. 427 427
Amnesty International interviews.
Elnara, who says he was put in a camp for having contact with people who had “extremist” thoughts, said he was forced to admit his “crime” and was told he would be sent to a punishment room if he did not confess. 428 428
Amnesty International interviews.
“Once a month there was self-assessment acknowledging that you did a crime and that you are not a good person,” Ibrahim told Amnesty International. 429 429
Amnesty International interviews.
Ibrahim also told Amnesty he was forced to choose two crimes from a list of 75 to confess to:

They started teaching us about 75 [crimes]… We had to write our names and IDs and to choose at least two. The more the better… What I read was that it was a crime not to drink and not to smoke. And that thick [rope] – to bind straw – if you had too much then it was a crime… you had to choose which you had… for example, if you brought too much food at once to your house… and if you visited a mosque not in your hometown, it is a crime… I visited a mosque in another county to attend a funeral… So, I chose two. And I put my fingerprint on it. 430 430
Amnesty International interviews.

Anara, who was in a camp for a year, told Amnesty that civil servants who lived outside the camp and who she likened to case managers used to come to do interrogations and what she referred to as “self-assessments and confessions”, in which detainees were required to confess to their crime, reflect on their “progress”, and often to disavow Islam.

At the beginning [the civil servants] would tell you your crimes… Then you had to write: ‘I didn’t know having WhatsApp was a crime. I didn’t know it caused damage to the CCP. Because of WhatsApp my mind was ‘compromised’. Now, after this education, I am getting better. I will not have WhatsApp on my phone again… [My other crime was going to Kazakhstan. I had to write:] I was in Kazakhstan. I got infected by ‘ideas’. Now I will do better and get rid of ideas… And [we also had to write] we had mistakenly chosen the religion of Islam. We will not choose this religion again… And there was also a list of ‘misdoings’ of Muslim believers against China. For example, praying before bed. So, you would have to write that you were sorry for this and that you would not do it again.

Anara told Amnesty International she was required to do a self-assessment once a week. “It was the same every week, except that you must acknowledge some progress, like learning Chinese,” she said. 431 431
Amnesty International interviews.

Healthcare without consent

All former detainees were subjected to health-related procedures without their consent. This occurred both during their pre-detention health check and during their time in the camp. Nearly every former detainee reported being given injections and having their blood drawn. 441 441
Amnesty International interviews.
Almost none were told what the injections or blood samples were for, even after they asked. “They injected me with a liquid, to clean inside my artery. They didn’t have my consent. They said that if I didn’t [allow them] then they would put me in the ‘strict’ group,” Aslan told Amnesty International. 442 442
Amnesty International interviews.
A few were told that some of the injections were flu shots or other vaccinations. 443 443
Amnesty International interviews.

There is a widespread belief among detainees that they were being injected to affect their memory or to sterilize them. 444 444
Amnesty International interviews.
Amnesty International has no basis upon which to assess these suspicions.

While government documents indicate that detainees were required to be vaccinated, the frequency with which some detainees report being injected is suspicious. 445 445
Amnesty International interviews.
A few former detainees claimed they were give injections or made to take pills every couple of weeks. “I can’t remember exactly [how frequent the injections were] but it was approximately every 10–15 days,” Abzal said.” 446 446
Amnesty International interviews.
“They give pills regularly in camp. Sometimes every 2–3 weeks. You didn’t know what the pill was – no box, no paper – just blue pills. Everyone gets them… I heard that they prevent you from having children,” Meryemgul told Amnesty. 447 447
Amnesty International interviews.

Former detainees remarked that after people received injections they were “happy” or seemed inebriated. 448 448
Amnesty International interviews.
“All of us were injected [before entering the camp]. They explained that it was to prevent the flu… After the flu shot people looked happy. I’m not sure why,” Patigül told Amnesty. 449 449
Amnesty International interviews.
Many journalists have also reported instances of detainees being injected repeatedly without explanation. 450 450
BBC News, “The Kazakh Muslims detained in China’s camps,” 15 January 2020

AFP, “China sterilising ethnic minority women in Xinjiang, report says: Uighurs are among those facing involuntary contraception or threats over birth quotas,” 29 June 2020

Most former detainees reported becoming sick and weak while in the camps. Most claim they did not receive adequate healthcare. Many report developing chronic health problems. 451 451
Amnesty International interviews.
Many stated that after leaving the camps they could no longer sit for long periods without being in pain. 452 452
Amnesty International interviews.
Others stated that after leaving the camps they had problems with their memory and with sleeping. 453 453
Amnesty International interviews.
A few said they had problems with their eyesight. “There is light in our cells 24/7, but not enough to read [and we were expected to read]. It affected our eyesight,” Alikhan said. 454 454
Amnesty International interviews.
A few male former detainees claimed they were unable to function sexually after being released. 455 455
Amnesty International interviews.

Detention in ‘hospitals’

Four former detainees told Amnesty International they were not interned in a formal camp, but instead spent most of their internment detained in hospitals. 456 456
Amnesty International interviews.
These included three older former detainees who said they were kept inside hospital rooms for nearly a year. They were nominally told to learn Chinese, but reported just sitting in the room for months on end. Erasyl, an older woman, told Amnesty how she spent most of her detention in a hospital room with other older women, none of whom were permitted to leave the floor.

I was at the hospital the whole summer… it is the [top] floor of a normal hospital, but it is blocked from other floors, and the windows are barred [and] only doctors can come in and out… I was kept in a room with six other elderly people… We were not allowed to go outside… We spent most of the day just sitting on our bed… We had lessons but I had problems hearing and my eyes were bad; they didn’t pressure me. They just demanded that I sign my name in Chinese… and we had to sing red songs. 457 457
Amnesty International interviews.

Similarly, Rahima, also an older woman, was kept in a hospital room with a group of such women for several months. She told Amnesty how they spent the time:

[During the day] we would wake up and have breakfast in the room. We were handed papers and books. I pretended to read, but I didn’t understand anything. We would pretend to learn all day. Then we would have a meal and sleep. They taught some red songs. They wanted us to learn Chinese words. We weren’t allowed out. We just wanted to be released. We were only allowed to go to the toilet. Otherwise we stayed in the room. 458 458
Amnesty International interviews.

Amnesty also interviewed one person who visited a family member, in their 70s, who was temporarily detained in a hospital. “The hospital was like a prison… [my family member’s] legs were covered with a blanket [at first]… but then I saw that her feet were chained to the bed… it was so sad to see with her legs cuffed,” Aiman said. 459 459
Amnesty International interviews.

‘transformation-through-education’

At its core, the detention and “education” regime detailed in this report, which is referred to in by Chinese authorities as “transformation-through-education” is a system of detention functioning both to punish detainees for certain behaviours and to reintroduce them into “normal” society following “rehabilitation”. Much about the system draws upon Chinese penal practices that have been in place for decades, and many of the human rights violations that former detainees describe are endemic to other Chinese detention systems.

Different forms of compulsory re-education of individuals or groups considered to be politically “unreliable” or threats to social stability have existed in China since 1949. In the late 1950s, a new system of custodial re-education known as “re-education through labour” was introduced to deal with “minor counterrevolutionaries” and “rightists”. In the 1980s, the focus shifted to include drug abuse, prostitution, and juvenile delinquency. 460 460
Fu Hualing, “Re-education through Labour in Historical Perspective”, China Quarterly 184 (2005): pp. 811-30

RTL enabled police to confine people without judicial trial for periods of one to three years (with the possibility of a one-year extension) for a broad range of unlawful acts considered too minor for criminal prosecution. Millions were locked up in conditions barely distinguishable from – or sometimes even worse than – those of prisons. Codified regulations and a formal process of hearings gave the institution a veneer of legality, but the lack of judicial trial or, in most cases, legal representation made the deprivation of liberty under RTL inherently arbitrary under international law. Further, RTL was often imposed in a brutal and humiliating fashion, and RTL facilities were places of additional human rights violations, including compulsory labour, torture, and other ill-treatment. 461 461
“’Changing the Soup but not the Medicine?’: Abolishing Re-Education through Labour in China” 17 December 2013

Though RTL functioned as a key part of local authorities’ stability-preservation toolkit for decades, its incompatibility with official professions of “rule according to law” and commitments to human rights made it a target of Chinese legal reformers. Those reformers claimed victory when RTL was abolished as an institution in December 2013, but the practice of depriving individuals of their liberty for extended periods under the guise of “education” has continued in different forms since then.

For example, even before 2013 authorities throughout the country had been using “legal education classes” to detain people arbitrarily for months. Like their counterparts in Xinjiang, these detention sites (which, like RTL, have been used extensively against practitioners of Falun Gong), were claimed to provide “classes” or “training”. In reality, they operated without clear regulations, laws, or other public directives to explain their use or operation or how and on what basis individuals were incarcerated there. 462 462
Amnesty International, “’Changing the Soup but not the Medicine?’: Abolishing Re-Education through Labour in China” 17 December 2013

The immediate domestic basis for the facilities in Xinjiang appears to be Article 14 of the De-extremification Regulations enacted by the Standing Committee of Xinjiang People’s Congress on 29 March 2017. The regulations describe several components of “transformation through education” in superficially positive terms:

Eliminating extremism necessitates doing the work of transformation through education well, combining individualized education with education in vocational training centres; legal education with “help and education”; ideological education, psychological counselling and behaviour modification with the study of the national standard spoken and written language, law and technology; and transformation through education with human care to enhance the effectiveness of transformation through education.

However, this regulation cannot serve as a basis for deprivation of liberty under Chinese law. Article 7 of China’s Legislation Law makes clear that deprivation of liberty may be based only in laws passed by the National People’s Congress or its standing committee. Though the regulation clearly considers transformation-through-education to be a form of “help and education” authorized under Article 29 of the Counterterrorism Law of the PRC, there is no legitimate way to reconcile the complete deprivation of liberty associated with transformation through education facilities in Xinjiang with the community-based education, surveillance, and support that “help and education” ostensibly entails. 463 463
Sarah Biddulph, “Arbitrary detention” in S. Biddulph &

J. Rosenzweig (eds), Handbook on Human Rights in China, Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 384-85.

i

Detainees are immobilized in ‘tiger chairs’ as punishment in internment camps.

Chapter 5

Torture in Internment Camps

Types of torture and other ill-treatment in internment camps

Every former detainee Amnesty International interviewed was tortured or subjected to other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (in this report referred to as torture and other ill-treatment) during their internment. Torture and other ill-treatment are constitutive elements of life in the internment camps. The torture and other ill-treatment that detainees experience in the camps falls into two broad categories.

The first category includes the physical and non-physical (that is, mental or psychological) torture and other ill-treatment experienced by all detainees as a result of the cumulative effects of daily life in the camps. This treatment includes:

  • being made to sit, kneel, or stand in stress positions for hours every day;
  • sleep deprivation; and
  • insufficient food, water, exercise, healthcare, sanitary and hygienic conditions, fresh air, and exposure to natural light.

This category also includes various forms of psychological abuse, including:

  • “re-education” under threat of severe punishment itself;
  • not knowing when their detention will end;
  • not being able to communicate freely with their family or anyone outside the camp;
  • not being able to speak in their native tongue;
  • living under the constant threat of violence and other abuse; and
  • being made to see and hear other detainees being tortured or otherwise ill-treated.

The combination of these physical and non-physical measures, in conjunction with the total loss of control and personal autonomy in the camps, is likely to cause mental and physical suffering severe enough to constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

Detainees are immobilized in ‘tiger chairs’ as punishment in internment camps.

The camps are in fact designed to ensure that these types of torture and other ill-treatment are an inescapable aspect of daily life for every detainee. The overall environment and setting in the internment camps leads to a total absence of any safeguards against torture or other ill-treatment, which in itself is a violation of a state’s duties to protect and prevent people deprived of their liberty from violations of the absolute prohibition of such treatment in international human rights law.

The second category of torture and other ill-treatment includes physical torture and other ill-treatment that occurs during interrogations or as punishment for misbehaviour by specific detainees (this type of torture is detailed in Chapter 5). Torture methods used during interrogations and as punishment included beatings, electric shocks, stress positions, the unlawful use of restraints (including being locked in a tiger chair), sleep deprivation, being hung from a wall, being subjected to extremely cold temperatures, and solitary confinement. Amnesty International documented one account of a death in an internment camp caused by torture.

Amnesty International interviewed many former detainees who were tortured or subjected to other ill-treatment during interrogations or punishments in internment camps. Amnesty also interviewed former detainees who witnessed the torture or other ill-treatment of other detainees or spoke with other detainees – usually their cellmates – who informed them that they had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated during interrogations or as punishment.

Former detainees and witnesses described a broadly consistent pattern of treatment of detainees by staff and officials in the camps. Some of this treatment reflects patterns of torture and other ill-treatment that Chinese security forces have carried out in Xinjiang and other parts of China for decades, such as severe beatings, forced “confessions”, being shackled or cuffed for extended periods of time, and being punished in a tiger chair. 464 464
Amnesty International, No End in Sight: Torture and Forced Confession in China, 2015

Human Rights Watch, Tiger Chairs and Cell Bosses: Police Torture of Criminal Suspects in China,” 2015

UN Committee against Torture, Concluding Observations and Recommendations to China, A/48/44(SUPP) paras. 387-429, January 1, 1993

UN Committee against Torture, Concluding Observations and Recommendations to China, A/51/44(SUPP) paras. 138-150, January 1, 1996

UN Committee against Torture, Concluding Observations and Recommendations to China, CAT A/55/44 (2000) paras. 123-130, January 1, 2000

UN Committee against Torture, Concluding Observations and Recommendations to China, CAT/C/CHN/CO/4, December 12, 2008.
According to former detainees, the torture and other ill-treatment was carried out both by camp guards and by domestic security police officers (Guobao) who came to the camps for the purposes of interrogating detainees. 465 465
Amnesty International interviews.

The treatment of detainees during interrogations and punishments in internment camps documented in this report constitutes torture and other ill-treatment, in violation of international law. It also constitutes the crime against humanity of torture (see Chapter 7).

Survivor accounts of torture and other ill-treatment

Amnesty International interviewed numerous former camp detainees who were tortured or subjected to other ill-treatment during interrogations or punishments. 466 466
Amnesty International interviews.
This mistreatment usually took place in interrogation or punishment rooms. These rooms were usually windowless and contained at least one tiger chair, which was used for interrogations. Three former detainees reported that tiger chairs were brought into their cells. 467 467
Amnesty International interviews.
Three other former detainees reported being punished in rooms with multiple tiger chairs. 468 468
Amnesty International interviews.

17 former detainees told Amnesty they were interrogated or punished in a tiger chair or other metal chair. 469 469
Amnesty International interviews.
Interrogations usually lasted an hour or more; punishments were often much longer. Several people reported being left restrained in a tiger chair for 24 hours or more. 470 470
Amnesty International interviews.

Daulet, who was detained for an offence related to the practice of Islam, told Amnesty International that during the year he spent in an internment camp he was taken to punishment rooms twice, where he was immobilized in a tiger chair. The first time was for making his bed too early in the morning. The second time he was taken along with the rest of his cellmates; they were punished collectively because one member of the cell had spoken in Kazakh.

[The first time] I was taken I was on ‘night duty’ with an old Hui man. It was morning. We thought it was time to start making the beds. Then, on the loudspeaker, someone said it wasn’t time to start making the beds. Then [two guards] came into the room and took [the two of us who were on duty] to the [punishment] room. The room had eight [tiger] chairs. We were there for maybe five hours. We did not have water. There was no food. And no toilet. They opened the window. It was very cold. We stayed strapped in the chair. The chair is metal, and we were cuffed with arms straight out. Our legs were cuffed… The second time, there was a guy [in my cell] who spoke in Kazakh. And the guards asked him if he spoke in Kazakh. And he said ‘no’. And then they took [everyone in the cell] to the tiger chair. 471 471
Amnesty International interviews.

Assel, an older woman who spent a year in the camp without ever being given a firm reason for her detention – although she believes it was because she had gone to Kazakhstan – was taken to a punishment room because she had argued with a cellmate after trying to defend another woman who was hard of hearing and was being verbally abused. She described being taken by two female guards to a small, dark, cold, and windowless room in the basement of the camp, where she was handcuffed and shackled and made to sit in an iron chair for days:

Two women took me to the room. They held me under my arms. They told me to sit in an iron chair… [They] cuffed my arms and legs… My hands were cuffed to each other, not to the chair… [I was taken because] there was a woman [in my cell] who couldn’t hear well. And there was another Uyghur woman [in the cell] who used to call her names. I said [to the Uyghur woman], ‘Why are you taking advantage of her? You shouldn’t do that!’ [Then an argument started.] Then the guards came [in the cell] and asked us what happened, and they took me to this room… It was a dark room. No toilet in it. Just a bucket… There was no bed, just a chair. They brought one piece of bread and water. I was getting pretty cold. I started shouting that I was getting cold… My hands and legs were cuffed [to the chair]… They told me I would be there for five days. [But] the following day they took my cuffs off and brought food. And [the guard] watched through the door and told me to eat. But I was cold and couldn’t eat… I was there for three days. 472 472
Amnesty International interviews.

Detainees told Amnesty International they were sent to punishment rooms multiple times. Mansur, a farmer, described to Amnesty how he was tortured multiple times in two camps during his time in detention – both during an interrogation and during multiple punishment sessions. He described his interrogation session:

That day two guards came to my cell. They said I would be interrogated. I stuck my hands out through the hole in the wall [door] and they cuffed me [from the other side of the door]… [I could hear] the guards talking on the walkie-talkie saying that ‘Guobao is waiting’… Two guards took me from the cell and dropped me off [at the room where I was interrogated]. Two men were inside. They locked the door from inside. The guards were in uniform but the plainclothes [Guobao officers] interrogated me… They started asking about personal information, ethnicity, date of birth, when I went to Kazakhstan, my occupation… [They asked,] ‘Did you pray there? What do your parents do?’ I said I only stayed with family, that I took care of livestock, and that I didn’t do anything illegal… they asked me about mosque and praying… If I told them I had been praying, I had heard that I would get sentenced for 20 or 25 years. So I told them I never prayed. Then they became upset. They said, ‘All that time with livestock, you became an animal too!’ Then they hit me with a chair until it broke… I fell to the floor. I almost fainted… Then they put me on the chair again. They said, ‘this guy hasn’t changed yet, he needs to stay [in the camp] longer’… then they radioed the guards, who helped me back to the cell. 473 473
Amnesty International interviews.

Mansur was also sent to two punishment rooms on multiple occasions for trivial offenses.

[The first time I was taken in the first camp] it was because I tried to look out the window. There was a window with a bar [in my cell]. We were not allowed to look outside… [The first time I was sent in the second camp] was because they made me the responsible person for the cell. Leaders were inspecting the cell. When they came in [to inspect our cell] we had to stand up and show respect but my cell didn’t do it, so I was sent to a punishment room… [The second time I was sent to the punishment room in the second camp] was one day before I was released. It was because I didn’t sit still in the classroom.

Mansur was tortured in both camps. He told Amnesty he was repeatedly electrocuted while being asked repetitively whether he “would do it again”. “[I had to say that] I made a mistake but will not do it again,” he said. “The first time they electric shocked me. Then they tied me up on a chair for 24 hours without food or water… The second time they chained me up [from the wall].” He told Amnesty he was left immobilized in a tiger chair multiple times, and the room was very cold. “They would open the window on winter days,” he said. 474 474
Amnesty International interviews.

Mansur also described two of the punishment rooms, one of which had 20 tiger chairs.

You can see the chair across from you, but not beside you because there are [wooden] dividers [that go to the ceiling]… Above every tiger chair there is a camera and microphone and a small white light. The light is on the ceiling. Lights are dim… There is a window but no light. The window is close to the ceiling. It is very narrow… Everything was white. The walls, floors, ceilings. All new… It is in the basement where we live… There were several other people [in the room] but I could not see [most of] them. There was one guy in front of me. I could see him. The other guy [in front of me] was punished for using his Kazakh mother tongue… We talked to each other. We had to talk in Chinese. 475 475
Amnesty International interviews.

Auelbek also described being punished and sent to a place with numerous tiger chairs – in this case they were in a corridor of a building in the camp:

I was punished once… In class I raised my hand and asked a question, then [the teacher] threw a plastic ruler at me and said, ‘Why do you speak!’… then [the teacher] said to the guards to take me to the tiger chair… They tied my hands and legs to the chair… I was lucky [because I wasn’t there for too long]… There were 10–15 chairs… It wasn’t a real room; it was part of a corridor… There were partitions between the chairs, like in a public toilet. You could not see the chair beside you… There was another person in front of me [who I could see]… When the guard left, I asked the man in front of me how long he had been there. He said 24 hours. 476 476
Amnesty International interviews.

Solitary confinement was used in the camps as a form of punishment. In some cases, this punishment could include confinement in tiger chairs, with the person immobilized in the chair left alone for close to a day or longer. In one case, a former detainee stated that the camp she was interned in had a “dark”, tomb-like room, which was windowless and without light, about two metres by one metre, where detainees were sent if they misbehaved. She told Amnesty she was put in the room for two days:

On that day a 70-year-old lady spoke her mother tongue, Uyghur, in our cell… The guards wanted to take her to a tiger chair. I argued with them… They said that I hadn’t learned and still had extremist thoughts, so they put me in the dark room… It’s just a room for one person. I was just lying on the floor… When you lie down [with your head at one end] your feet almost touch the wall… There is a toilet in the room, nothing else. 477 477
Amnesty International interviews.

Physical ill-treatment also takes place throughout the camps outside of interrogation and “formal” punishments, most commonly through beatings, the use of restraints, and the use of pepper spray. Guards routinely beat detainees who “misbehave”, even for the most trivial offences. Amnesty International interviewed numerous people who reported being beaten during detention. 478 478
Amnesty International interviews.
Electric batons were often used to electrocute and beat people. 479 479
Amnesty International interviews.

Madi told Amnesty how he was beaten shortly after arriving at the camp when he resisted being strip-searched by guards:

When I said I wouldn’t take off my underwear they beat me with an electric baton. And then I fell. They beat me and I was electrocuted… When I came to my senses, they took off my clothes, they searched me, made me bend down, tied my hands behind my neck. It was very painful. 480 480
Amnesty International interviews.

Amir told Amnesty he was severely beaten after fighting back against a guard who hit him with a rifle:

[One of the guards] said, ‘Squat and put your hands on the back of your head!’… I asked why. Then the police hit me with the back of a rifle… I wanted to protect myself, so I hit back. He fell down. Then the other police all hit me. When I was being beaten up, I heard one voice saying, ‘End him with one bullet’… I thought I was going to die… I wanted not to be killed and I screamed… Then they sprayed something in my eyes so I couldn’t open them… Then I was dragged [to my cell]. 481 481
Amnesty International interviews.

Two former detainees reported having their legs shackled during part of their time in detention. 482 482
Amnesty International interviews.
Rustam told Amnesty his legs were shackled for 15 days after he was initially detained. 483 483
Amnesty International interviews.
Baurzhan told Amnesty his feet were shackled together for the first year he was in a camp.

It was a metal chain with 11 links. The two ends were on my feet with bolts. [It weighed about] 3kg. We could barely step 20cm or more. I could barely walk. It was on 24/7. Every week the guards would check the chain. Every two weeks they would tighten the bolts… [Several months after I arrived in the camp] they offered us water for showering, but always with the chain on. The old inmates showed us how to take your pants off. We took our pants off through the space between the chain and ankle, but it takes a really long time. 484 484
Amnesty International interviews.

Three former detainees told Amnesty International that they were sprayed with something, likely pepper spray, while they were in the camps. 485 485
Amnesty International interviews.
Amir told Amnesty he was sprayed with something while being interrogated twice while immobilized in a tiger chair. “I was taken [from my cell] to another room and seated in a tiger chair… they didn’t ask me anything. They sprayed something in the air that made it difficult to breathe. [The spray] was small, like [the size] of a bottle of pills. You could put it in your pocket,” he said. 486 486
Amnesty International interviews.
Madi told Amnesty that guards used to spray a white substance, which he believed was pepper spray, into his cell frequently – multiple times a day – which made his throat sore and made it difficult to breathe. 487 487
Amnesty International interviews.

Journalists and human rights organizations have reported more than a dozen first-hand accounts of torture and other ill-treatment in the camps in Xinjiang. 488 488
For other accounts of torture and other ill-treatment see

Human Rights Watch, Eradicating Ideological Viruses: China’s Campaign of Repression Against Xinjiang’s Muslims, 9 September 2018

Robin Schmitz, NPR, “Ex-Detainee Describes Torture In China’s Xinjiang Re-Education Camp,” 13 November 2018

Christopher Connell, Share America, “A tale of torture in a Chinese internment camp for Uyghurs,”

Steve Chao, Al Jazeera, “Exposed: China’s surveillance Muslim Uighurs,”

See also Xinjiang Victims Database entries: “Kairat Samarkan”

“Mihrigul Tursun”







“Abduhebir Rejep”

“Ergali Ermek”,



“Zharqynbek Otan”

“Qaster Musahan”

“Gulzira Auelhan”

“Tursunay Ziyawudun”
Journalists have also reported deaths in internment camps. 489 489
Shohret Hoshur, Radio Free Asia, “At Least 150 Detainees Have Died in One Xinjiang Internment Camp: Police Officer,” 29 October 2019

Witness accounts of torture and other ill-treatment

Amnesty International interviewed numerous women and men who witnessed the torture or other ill-treatment of other detainees. 511 511
Amnesty International interviews.
Madi told Amnesty he witnessed the torture of a cellmate whom he later learned died from the effects of the torture. Madi said the man was made to sit in a tiger chair in the middle of their cell. The cellmates were made to watch him sit there, restrained and immobilized, for three days, and were expressly forbidden to help him.

He was a [ethnicity redacted]. I can’t remember his name. There are many things I can’t remember [since I left the camp]… [The man] was in our room for more than two months, then he was taken to the doctor – I think he was taken for high blood pressure and because he fainted… As soon as he came back [to our cell] he was made to sit in a tiger chair. [I think the man was being punished for pushing a guard.]… They brought the chair into our room… Yes, we were watching. They told us that if we helped him then we would sit in the chair… It was an iron chair… his arms were cuffed and chained. Legs were chained as well. His body was tied to the back of the chair… Two [cuffs] were locked around his wrists and legs… A rubber thing attached to the ribs to make the person [sit] up straight… at some point we could see his testicles. He would [urinate and defecate] in the chair. He was in the chair for three nights… He died after he [was taken out of the cell]. We found out through [people] in the cell… He didn’t die in front of us. After 72 hours, he was [urinating and defecating]. We told the guards. They said to clean him. His bottom was wounded. His eyes look unconscious… Then [the guards] took him [out of the cell]. 512 512
Amnesty International interviews.

Timur told Amnesty he witnessed two of his cellmates immobilized in tiger chairs for extended periods. He and the other cellmates were forced to watch and forbidden to provide any assistance:

They used to make people sit in tiger chairs for hours. I saw it with my own eyes. They used to make the person sit in the tiger chair in front of us. They used to bring the chair into our cell if someone was not obedient… It happened twice. The first guy [was immobilized] for 24 hours. He was not allowed to eat or drink. He was taken to the toilet twice… The second guy was made to sit for six hours. 513 513
Amnesty International interviews.

Zhaina told Amnesty how she and her cellmates were forced to watch others sit in tiger chairs, including one who urinated on herself after being made to sit in the tiger chair for 32 hours: “A female guard used to take us [to another room in camp] to show us how people were suffering… It was in a room [that was originally intended] to keep animals, surrounded by bars. It was dirty… It was like a pound. It was made of bricks with an iron roof… I saw them sitting in the chair.” 514 514
Amnesty International interviews.

Aibek told Amnesty he saw immobilized people tortured through the use of restraints and exposure to the cold while walking from his cell to the medical clinic in the camp: “I saw how they torture [other people]. One time they set a young lady in a metal chair outside [in January] in thin clothes… [I saw] seven Uyghur men handcuffed [outside] to metal bars and chains on their feet without shoes.” 515 515
Amnesty International interviews.

Former detainees told Amnesty they witnessed other inmates shackled. 516 516
Amnesty International interviews.
Madina, who also worked in an internment camp, told Amnesty that all detainees in the strict and very strict management categories in the camp she worked in had to be shackled at all times. 517 517
Amnesty International interviews.

Numerous former detainees witnessed others being beaten, including older detainees. 518 518
Amnesty International interviews.
Beatings were often punishment for moving when they were required to sit still, for not speaking in Mandarin, or for not learning appropriately during classes. Saken told Amnesty that men in his cell were routinely beaten for minor movements.

They ordered us to stay still, to ‘sit tight’, but it was so cold that it was impossible… If you made any motion, they would beat you… You can get beaten for any reason… If someone moved and you tried to explain [to the guard] that the man was innocent then you would be beaten too… I don’t even count the [frequent] slapping and punching as beating… They beat people at night, they took them to the basement… There was a room without cameras… I saw guards dragging motionless men back to [our cell and to the cell across from ours]… I saw four guys [being dragged liked this]… One guy in our cell was beaten unconscious… He had a mental problem… They [took him out of the cell] and beat him until his skin was broken. 519 519
Amnesty International interviews.

Yerulan told Amnesty that guards routinely beat people as they walked to class, and that a man in his class was taken out of class and beaten for not singing a song properly:

[Name redacted] was beaten, he was an ethnic Uzbek; a Han Chinese [guard] beat him and put him in isolation for 24 hours… He came back with bruises. I was in his cell… and [the guard] would call people who could not recite Chinese content to the door [then the person who was called would stick their hand through the hole in the door] and then cuff them to the door and beat them with an electric baton… I saw [people being beaten] two or three times… I could hear [people being electrocuted] in the hall many more times. 520 520
Amnesty International interviews.

Zhenis, who worked in a camp, told Amnesty that detainees were regularly beaten in his camp. “Every day someone was taken out [of the class] and beaten, with hands, feet, weapons, and baton,” he said. 521 521
Amnesty International interviews.

Many former detainees and other witnesses provided Amnesty International with accounts of torture and other ill-treatment that they themselves did not witness. These second-hand accounts were received from other former detainees – usually their cellmates – who were tortured or otherwise ill-treated during interrogations or as punishment. 522 522
Amnesty International interviews.
Former detainees described cellmates being taken to punishment rooms and immobilized in tiger chairs – often for several days – and being beaten during interrogations. 523 523
Amnesty International interviews.
Many returned with visible injuries and stories of torture.

Zhaina told Amnesty that women in her cell were punished by being made to stand still and look at the wall for hours. 524 524
Amnesty International interviews.
Aitugan told Amnesty that another detainees in his cell told him he was taken to a punishment room and hung on the wall with his feet off the ground. 525 525
Amnesty International interviews.
Dariga told Amnesty she spoke with a male former detainee who said his entire cell was put in tiger chairs. 526 526
Amnesty International interviews.
Tajigul told Amnesty other detainees would be taken out of her cell and return with physical injuries:

Some people would disappear for several days. When they came back their bodies were scarred… I know one, because her bed was next to me. She disappeared… [when she came back] her hands were swollen… She said don’t talk to me because there are cameras in the cell… [but she did talk later and said that] two police tortured her. She said she was beaten. They also beat her on the soles of her feet. 527 527
Amnesty International interviews.

Many detainees said their cellmates appeared to have been punished for very trivial offences. Ibrahim told Amnesty, “In the second facility we had no lessons… we had to sit straight without moving… you can’t even look to the side… one man was taken away [for looking to the side] and came back with swollen feet and legs and he said he was taken and cuffed to a bed and beaten.” 528 528
Amnesty International interviews.

Journalists and human rights organizations have reported additional witness accounts of torture and other ill-treatment. 529 529
See John Sudworth, BBC News, “China defends detention of Uighur model in Xinjiang,” 18 August 2020

Stephen Gibbs, Daily Mail, “Gang rape, torture and the dreaded red X: Survivor of China’s modern-day concentration camps reveals the horrors behind the walls – and the REAL purpose of terrifying people,” 22 May 2021

Allegations of sexual violation and violations of reproductive rights

Journalists and other organizations have reported several accounts of rape and other sexual violence in the internment camps. 530 530
Amie Ferris-Rotman, The Washington Post, “Abortions, IUDs, and sexual humiliation: Muslim women who fled China for Kazakhstan recount ordeals,” 5 October 2019

The Rights Practice, “Invisible Pain: Sexual and gender-based violence in Xinjiang,” November 2020
Two former detainees – a woman and a man – reported being raped while in the camps. 531 531
Matthew Hill, David Campanale, and Joel Gunter, BBC News, “’Their goal is to destroy everyone’: Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape,” 2 February 2020

Steve Chao, Al Jazeera, “Exposed: China’s surveillance of Muslim Uighurs,” 1 February 2019 .
A former teacher held in a camp reported witnessing other detainees being raped by police in camp. 532 532
David Stavrou, Haaretz, “A Million People Are Jailed at China’s Gulags. I managed to Escape. Here’s what Really Goes on Inside: Rape, torture and human experiments. Sayragul Sauytbay offers firsthand testimony from a Xinjiang ‘reeducation camp’,” 17 October, 2019
Another former teacher reported that camp guards shared stories of multiple rapes of detainees by officials in the camps, including mass rapes. 533 533
Ruth Ingram, The Diplomat, “Confessions of Xinjiang Camp Teacher,” 17 August 2020
Another former detainee’s testimony about being raped in a camp was reported by a human rights investigator. 534 534
Human Rights Watch, “‘Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots,’: Crimes Against Humanity Targeting Uyghurs and Other Turkic Muslims,” 19 April 2021
Amnesty International did not hear any first-hand accounts of rape; however, Raziya told Amnesty that she spoke with a friend who said she had been raped repeatedly by internment camp guards.

I was terrified when I found out that I would be sent to a facility, because my neighbour, who was in her 20s, was at a camp, and she and I had a drink and she shared her secrets. She said she was raped and forced to have an abortion… She told me that she said several Han people raped her, that ‘two held my hands, two held my legs and one raped me’. 535 535
Amnesty International interviews.

Other reports describe gender-based violence in the form of violations of sexual and reproductive rights. 536 536
Amy Qin, New York Times, “China Targets Muslim Women in Push to Suppress Births in Xinjiang: In Most of China, women are being urger to have more babies to shore up a falling birthrate. But in Xinjiang, they ar being forced to have fewer,” 12 May 2021
The Chinese authorities’ interference in the reproductive choices of Uyghur and other ethnic minority women, as well as Han women, has been well documented. 537 537
The Rights Practice, “Invisible Pain: Sexual and gender-based violence in Xinjiang,” November 2020
Journalists have reported that ethnic minority women in Xinjiang are regularly forced to undergo insertions of intrauterine contraceptive devices, pregnancy checks, sterilizations, and abortions in an attempt to restrict their birth rates. 538 538
The Associated Press, “China cuts Uighur births with IUDs, abortion, sterilization,” 29 June, 2020

Simina Mistreanu and Roxi Pop, The Independent, “ ‘The pain hasn’t gone away’: Women of Xinjiang reveal horror of China’s brutal campaign of forced abortions and imprisonment,” 16 October 2020
Kuanish, a former detainee, told Amnesty how, a year or so before he was sent to a camp, his wife was forced to have an abortion:

My wife was seven months pregnant… the law was if you have more than two kids then you have to pay [a fine], and if you can’t pay there is prison… I told them I could pay the fine. They said no, we better just take the baby out and have an abortion… So they took her to hospital and did an abortion. They put the body in a plastic bag… I took my sons and we buried it. 539 539
Amnesty International interviews.

Darkhan, told Amnesty that, in 2017, they, along with other government officials and security officers pressured and intimidated women who violated family planning policies to have abortions:

It would be discussed in a meeting that a woman was hiding her pregnancy… Then cadres from the [family planning agency] would take the woman to the hospital to have an ultrasound. Once it was confirmed [that a woman was pregnant] we would go to her house… Auxillary police and cadres… 7-8 people… We would tell [the woman] that they would get punished [if they did not have an abortion]… in truth, we threatened them… all of them wanted to keep their babies… then we would show our muscles… the police would say if you don’t [have an abortion] then we will send you to detention… [The woman all] cried…. We forced them… I didn’t go to the hospital, but I went to their houses. We would stay and comfort the family… and we would visit after to see if they were angry.

Darkhan told Amnesty that the family planning policies had been in place for long time; however, after Chen Quanguo became party secretary in Xinjiang they were enforced differently. “Before you weren’t forced to have an abortion, you could pay a fine,” he said. 540 540
Amnesty International interviews.

According to some former detainees interviewed by journalists, women held in internment camps were made to attend family-planning classes and were force-fed birth control pills, given contraceptive injections, or subjected to the forced insertion of intrauterine contraceptive devices. 541 541
Amie Ferris-Rotman, The Washington Post, “Abortions, IUDs, and sexual humiliation: Muslim women who fled China for Kazakhstan recount ordeals,” 5 October 2019

Asia News, 2019. Rape, abuse and sterilisation in XUAR’s ‘boarding schools’ for Uyghurs.
Elnara told Amnesty that her husband was “forced” to come to her internment camp for a conjugal visit. After the visit she was made to take a pill that she was told prevented pregnancy. 542 542
Amnesty International interviews.

i

The Qarqi Derwaza Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang before 2017, then after being desecrated and refurbished. Mosques and other religious sites have been demolished or desecrated throughout Xinjiang.

Chapter 6

Life After the Internment Camps

The process of being released from an internment camp

The process to determine whether detainees are released from camps is not well understood, including by many detainees. Like the process surrounding the initial detention and transfer to the internment camp, much of the release process appears to be operating outside of the scope of the Chinese criminal justice system or other domestic law. There is a total absence of any transparent criteria or legal assistance and protection. Nothing that former detainees experienced during the time leading up to their release indicates any regard for the fairness and due process required by the gravity of deciding individuals’ fates.

A billboard stating that ‘Praying in public places is strictly forbidden’. Signs with this phrase have been documented in Xinjiang.

Leaked Chinese government documents, particularly the Telegram, provide some insight into how the government intended – at least at one point – the release process to work. 543 543
The Telegram (previously cited), para 17.
Based on testimony from former detainees and witnesses and on what we know from the Telegram, the decision to release or transfer someone is essentially the culmination of a process that begins when an individual is first detained. From that moment, there is an ongoing process of monitoring and evaluation, whereby people are given scores. A detainee’s behaviour reportedly affects their score, which factors into the release determination.

According to the Telegram, once a detainee arrives at an internment camp there are five broad criteria that must be met to be designated as ready to be considered for release from the camp. The detainee must have

  1. been placed in the normal management group;
  2. been in the camp for at least a year;
  3. displayed some form of improvement with respect to their “problem” since arriving in the camp;
  4. achieved adequate scores with respect to “ideological transformation, academic achievement, compliance and discipline, etc.”; and
  5. no “other circumstances that affect completion”.

Once these criteria are met, a detainee can proceed to the first of several additional evaluations undertaken by camp and other government officials. First, “a student evaluation team overseen by the Party organization secretary” undertakes a “preliminary” evaluation and then checks the Integrated Joint Operations Platform to see if it has flagged any “new problems”. Then, in the absence of any new issues flagged by IJOP, the case is reported “up level-by-level” to three different groups of government cadres, the last of which is the “local (prefecture or city) vocational skills education and training service bureau” that, in concert with “comrades of the local [Party] committee”, makes the final determination about whether the detainee is ready for “completion” and ultimately release. 544 544
The Telegram (previously cited), para. 18.

It is also plausible that the decisions to release individual detainees were based on factors unrelated to the criteria described in the Telegram. According to reports from former detainees interviewed by Amnesty and other organizations, the criteria in the Telegram were not always adhered to. For example, a significant number of detainees have been released without being in a camp for a year. 545 545
Amnesty International interviews

See also, Xinjiang Victims Database

The decision to release a detainee is also based in part on the behaviour of the detainee’s family outside the camps, which is also being monitored, evaluated, and incorporated into the detainee’s score. A 2017 government directive on how to answer questions from ethnic minority students who wonder where their relatives are instructed cadres to tell the students that their behaviour could hurt their relatives’ scores. 546 546
The Xinjiang Papers: Austin Ramzy and Chris Buckley, “’Absolutely No Mercy’: Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims: More than 400 pages of internal Chinese documents expose an unprecedented inside look at the crackdown on ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.”, New York Times, 16 November 2019
Former detainees also said that after they were released they learned their family and friends had been questioned before their release and that their family members had to fill out a long questionnaire. 547 547
Amnesty International interviews.

Aiman, a government cadre who assigned scores to families in her village, told Amnesty how cadres also scored family members of people in internment camps and said that family members were told that if they went to work in specific factories or attended Chinese language classes it would increase their scores. Although Aiman was personally sceptical that detainees were ever released early because of good behaviour by their family members, she was instructed to inform family that it could. Moreover, according to Aiman, when men were sent to camps, authorities would pressure their wives to work in factories:

If [a woman] refused, then they threatened that her husband’s situation would be worse… Under my supervision there were [a few dozen] women who were taken to factories like this. Many of them also had no choice because they needed the money [since their family lost income when their husband was sent to a camp camp]. 548 548
Amnesty International interviews.

Batima, who worked in a village administration office and was responsible for looking through the files of people who had been sent to camps, explained to Amnesty how detainees were held responsible for the actions of their family members outside the camps and how family behaviour could have a negative impact on an individual’s score, which is the metric the government uses to determine who should be released:

When someone was [sent to a camp] it affected three generations of the family. For example, if parents were sent then it affected the son – he could not get a job with government or police… Also, for example, the cadres staying with [the families of people in camps] overnight had to report back to the village committee if anyone prayed. And if they found this, then the score [of the person in the camp] would be lowered And if a person was sent to re-education camp then that person’s family had to attend classes. If they did [attend] then the family would get a good score and [the person in the camp would] get released sooner, or vice versa. We collected scores each week and sent them to re-education camps. 549 549
Amnesty International interviews.

It is also likely that some of the releases were a consequence of a change in government policy, perhaps as a result of international pressure. Moreover, it is plausible that many of the detainees were released because of a policy change with respect to certain ethnic minority groups only – in particular, ethnic Kazakhs. Testimonial evidence from former detainees’ family members suggests that a significant portion of the ethnic Kazakh population detained in the camps has been released, particularly those with Kazakh citizenship or family ties to Kazakhstan. 550 550
Gene A. Bunin, Foreign Policy. “Detainees Are Trickling Out of Xinjiang’s Camps: House arrest or forced labor awaits most of those released so far in what may be a public relations ploy,” 18 January 2019
Numerous former detainees Amnesty interviewed said many other Kazakh detainees who were in their camps were released around the same time they were released. Daulet, who said he was detained for an offence related to religion, told Amnesty that nearly all the Kazakh people were released from his camp: “I was one of the last [Kazakhs] in the camp.” 551 551
Amnesty International interviews.
Many of the former detainees interviewed by Amnesty believe they were released because of public pressure on the government of China to release some ethnic Kazakh detainees. 552 552
See also: Reid Standish, Aigerim Toleukhanova, Foreign Policy, “Kazakhs Won’t Be Silenced on China’s Internment Camps: Activists are speaking out for those imprisoned in Xinjiang – even if their own government doesn’t like it,” 4 March 2019
The government of Kazakhstan has also reportedly engaged in closed-door diplomacy to pressure China to released ethnic Kazakhs from the camps. 553 553
See Catherine Putz, The Diplomat, “Carefully Kazakhstan Confronts China About Kazakhs in Xinjiang Re-Education Camps: Astana can’t afford to push Beijing too hard, even on behalf of its own citizens detained in Xinjiang Re-education camps,”14 June 2018

Bruce Pannier, Radio Free Europe, “Kazakhstan Confronts China Over Disappearances”, 1 June 2018

Qazak Times, “Consultations on the issues of Kazakh diaspora in China in continuing,” 17 November 2017

There is dramatically less testimonial evidence about whether members of other ethnic groups – particularly Uyghurs – have been released at similar rates. But it is not known if this is because Uyghurs have not been released or because, with very few exceptions, they have been unable to travel to foreign countries where they are willing and able to speak relatively freely about their detention, or even to share information about their release. Several of the Kazakh former detainees Amnesty interview said that Uyghurs were less likely to be released than Kazakhs and the vast majority of the people they know of who were released from their camps were Kazakh, even though Uyghurs made up the overwhelming majority of the camp populations in many of those camps. 554 554
Amnesty International interviews.

Former detainees’ experiences of the release process before being sent home

Detainees were not made explicitly aware of the government’s criteria for release; however, they generally understood that their behaviour was constantly being evaluated. Many were informed that their release was predicated on achieving certain targets, such as learning a sufficient number of Chinese characters. 555 555
Amnesty International interviews.
Many also understood that breaking any camp rules would likely prolong their detention.

Despite their awareness of being evaluated, very few former detainees credited their release to anything they did or did not do in the camps. Most attributed their release to factors largely or entirely outside their control, such as their Kazakh ethnicity and the fact that the government decided to release ethnic Kazakhs from the camps. 556 556
Amnesty International interviews.
Some believe they were released because of appeals for their release made by family members living abroad. 557 557
Amnesty International interviews.
Others have no idea why they were released. 558 558
Amnesty International interviews.
“They released 12 people the day I was released… They said, ‘Your time is up and you can go home now.’ They didn’t say why. They just released Kazakhs, not Hui or Uyghurs,” Asylbek told Amnesty International. 559 559
Amnesty International interviews.

Some former detainees also believed their release was connected to the reason they were initially detained; those detained for certain “crimes” – especially religion-related offences – were believed to be much less likely to be released. 560 560
Amnesty International interviews.
This would be consistent with several other aspects of the mass incarceration campaign and the internment camp system. Because those sent to camps for religious reasons were generally placed in the “strict” or “very strict” management categories, it stands to reason that at the very least, it would take longer for them to progress from either of those categories into the “normal” management category, which, according to the Telegram, is a prerequisite for release.

The interviews and other procedural steps former detainees have described undergoing before being released are broadly consistent with the process outlined in the Telegram. Many of the former detainees were questioned by camp and other government officials before release, often by several groups of officials from different government bodies. 561 561
Amnesty International interviews.
According to Nurgul, who said she was detained for having WhatsApp on her phone, the release procedure involved officials from several levels of government. “It’s like a parole hearing. Civil servants came to camp. They checked my documents, asked whether I improved, whether my family was complying. They asked your friends and your neighbours if you were reliable,” she said. 562 562
Amnesty International interviews.

The questions asked in these pre-release interviews followed a similar script. Detainees were asked about their religious practices, their contacts abroad, and other topics they had been questioned about repeatedly throughout their internment. Nearly all detainees were required to “confess” to their “crimes”, to acknowledge that their past behaviour was wrong, to express how much they appreciated the education they had received, to explain how their thoughts had been “transformed”, to swear they would not act that way again, and, often, to disavow Islam. Detainees were also required to explain what they were planning to do after they were released. 563 563
Amnesty International interviews.

Former detainees believed that to be released they needed to answer all the questions in the way the government officials wanted, regardless of whether it was the truth. Aitugan told Amnesty that in the weeks before his release, he was interviewed by four different groups of government officials – “school” level (that is, camp level), county level, prefecture level, and autonomous region level – all of whom asked him similar questions and, he believes, required certain answers:

All the [interviews] were the same. [They asked,] ‘What did you learn? Have your thoughts transformed? Do you love China? What are you going to do when you are released? Do you appreciate your re-education?’ We had to answer all the questions positively or be sent to jail. We know this… Each [of the four interviews] was one to two weeks apart, and lasted for 30 to 60 minutes… When they [detained] us they made up one reason [for our detention] even though we didn’t do it… [Before you were released] you had to write something. [You had to start what you write] with that reason. Then you copied a form saying you wouldn’t pray, wouldn’t go to a mosque, and would follow all Chinese laws. 564 564
Amnesty International interviews.

Towards the end of the interview process, detainees were made to write and sign several letters and to sign several official documents, including a “confession” letter, a “gratitude” letter, and at least one document stating they would not disclose anything about their internment in the camp to anyone, including members of their family, and especially not to foreign nationals. 565 565
Amnesty International interviewSee also: Alison Killing and Megha Rajagopalan, BuzzFeed News, What They Saw: Ex-Prisoners Detail The Horrors of China’s Detention Camps, 27 August 2020

Emily Rauhala and Anna Fifield, Washington Post, “She survived a Chinese internment camps and made it to Virginia. Will the U.S. let her stay?”, 17 November 2019
Former detainees said they had to sign numerous documents before being released. “I had to sign 19 documents to be released,” Daulet said. 566 566
Amnesty International interviews.

Nurgul, who said he was detained for travelling to Kazakhstan, told Amnesty International he had to write and sign three letters before being released.

Before I was released, I had to write a letter of gratitude to the Party, thanking them for feeding and educating us. And I had to write a confession letter, saying that I committed a mistake by going to Kazakhstan… You needed three letters to sign out. [The third] said [I was] not allowed to say anything about our experience in the camp and that if I did then I agreed to be judged and sent back to the camp. 567 567
Amnesty International interviews.

All detainees were told unequivocally that if they disclosed information about the camps they would be interned again or sent to prison. Former detainees were also told that their family members would also be sent to camps. Nurislam, who was released along with a large group of Kazakh detainees, told Amnesty International that camp officials told the group before their release that if they disclosed anything about the camps they would be sent back to the camps along with their wives. 568 568
Amnesty International interviews.
Aidar told Amnesty he was required to write a letter of gratitude to the Party before being released and to swear not to disclose anything under penalty of his family being sent to a camp:

[During the final time I was interrogated in the camp], a few days before I was released, I had to write down everything that happened to me in the foreign country [I visited]. And to write about communism and democracy. I knew that we had to praise communism and despise democracy, so that is what I did. And I had to write that if I ever spoke about what happened in the camp then my parents would be sentenced. Then I had to sign and put my fingerprint on the paper. 569 569
Amnesty International interviews.

Some former detainees were told to deny they had ever been to a camp. 570 570
Amnesty International interviews.
A few said they were coached on what to say to friends and relatives after they were released. 571 571
Amnesty International interviews.
Tajigul told Amnesty International that before her release she was taken to a police station, where they put make-up on her and fed her. She was interrogated repeatedly over the course of a week, during which time they also told her what to do for the video they wanted her to make: “[Before I could be released] I had to make a video saying good things about the CCP and what they had done for me, how strong the country was, that [an overseas Uyghur organization] did terrorist activities.” 572 572
Amnesty International interviews.

Dariga told Amnesty that to be allowed to go back to Kazakhstan she had to make a very detailed video stating that her time in the camp had been voluntary, that she was treated well in the camp, and that she had learned many valuable things during her time there, including why religion was bad. “I didn’t want to say these things,” she said. “I had to say them to see my children.” 573 573
Amnesty International interviews.

Family members of detainees were also threatened with detention if they spoke about the fact that their family members had been to a camp. According to Batima, who worked in a village administration office, family members of about-to-be-released detainees received a call from government officials warning them not to disclose that their relative had been to a camp and threatening them with jail time if journalists ever found out anything about the relative’s internment. 574 574
Amnesty International interviews.

Once detainees fulfilled the necessary conditions, they were permitted to return to their homes; however, they had to do so under strict conditions limiting their movements and associations. 575 575
Amnesty International interviews.

Treatment of former camp detainees after release from internment camps

After being released from the internment camps to go home, former detainees faced further severe restrictions on their human rights, particularly their freedom of movement. These restrictions were in addition to the discriminatory policies directed at all members of ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang (see Chapter 2).

All former detainees Amnesty International interviewed said they were placed under both electronic and in-person surveillance and subjected to regular evaluations from government employees and cadres. Yerkinbek, who worked with several former detainees after they were released from camps, told Amnesty that government officials used to show up regularly at his workplace and question his ex-detainee colleagues. 576 576
Amnesty International interviews.

As discussed in Chapter 2, one of the most invasive aspects of life in Xinjiang for ex-detainees is the presence of government minders. Nearly all former detainees reported that government employees or cadres were required to stay with them in their houses for several nights per month after they were released from a camp. 577 577
Amnesty International interviews.
Several former detainees reported that while they were in the camp, their family members were required to have minders stay with them. 578 578
Amnesty International interviews.

Family members of detainees also faced additional restrictions on their rights during and after the release of their detained relative. These restrictions included being subjected to additional surveillance, having their houses searched, and having their movements further curtailed. 579 579
Amnesty International interviews.
Ibrahim told Amnesty he found out how his family’s freedoms had been curtailed while he was in the camp: “While I was in camp, I thought my family had freedom, but I learned that they were under house arrest. They had to ask permission to move… A cadre was consistently visiting their house… There was a camera in the street [in front of their house],” he said. 580 580
Amnesty International interviews.

Many former detainees also reported being ostracized by their friends, family, and communities after their release. 581 581
Amnesty International interviews.
Patigül told Amnesty that the social ostracization was a significant reason why he ultimately left China:

The reason I decided to come back [to Kazakhstan] was because after I was designated a ‘dangerous person’, even my friends and family were avoiding me. Everyone was trying to exclude me, even from social gatherings… And security people kept asking me questions. And [so did] the head of the unit where I worked… Although I never committed a crime, they considered me a criminal. 582 582
Amnesty International interviews.

The testimonial evidence about the situation of former detainees and their family members after release provided to Amnesty is consistent with evidence provided to journalists and other investigators, as well as with leaked government documents prescribing the treatment of former detainees during the months after their release. This evidence includes a directive in the Telegram requiring that every ex-detainee be strictly monitored, evaluated, and controlled, and “must not leave the line of sight for one year” after leaving the camp. 583 583
The Telegram (previously cited), para. 17.

‘Education’ continues

Nearly all of the former detainees who spoke to Amnesty International were required to attend classes in Chinese language and political ideology after they were released. 584 584
Amnesty International interviews.
Members of ethnic minorities who had never been detained were also often required to attend classes; however, former detainees were normally made to go much more frequently, often for two or three hours every day. 585 585
Amnesty International interviews.
Family members of some detainees were also made to go to classes several hours a day. 586 586
Amnesty International interviews.
Ex-detainees reported that after they were released, they were required to continue to write “confession and self-criticism” letters during class and give them to local cadres to evaluate. 587 587
Amnesty International interviews.
One former detainee reported that Kazakhs and Uyghurs in her village were required to attend separate classes. 588 588
Amnesty International interviews.
Several detainees reported that Han Chinese people were not required to attend these classes. 589 589
Amnesty International interviews.

Many interviewees told Amnesty that all members of ethnic minorities were required to attend flag-raising ceremonies every Monday morning. 590 590
Amnesty International interviews.
During these ceremonies, ex-detainees were often made to publicly “confess” their crimes, to speak out against extremism, to apologize for being an extremist, and to extol the virtues of the education they had received. 591 591
Amnesty International interviews.
Former detainees told Amnesty that only ethnic minorities were required to attend the village flag-raising. According to Meryemgul, members of the village who had not been in camps were also required to go, but only ethnic minorities were truly compelled to attend: “Only Uyghurs go. [Han] Chinese people, they laugh at us,” she said. 592 592
Amnesty International interviews.

Shortly after she was released after more than a year in the camps, Dariga was told to write and then read at a flag-raising ceremony a statement praising the CCP and instructing others not to practise religion:

I was told to say… ‘I Dariga am the daughter of… I have been to a camp… because I made a mistake and now, with thanks to the Party, I have reversed my mistakes… and now I live in the right thanks to the Party. They put me on the right path.’ I also had to say that we shouldn’t be religious, that it is wrong. We shouldn’t pray. We should always follow the Party.

Family members of detainees also had to speak at flag-raising ceremonies. Bolat told Amnesty International his brother was made to speak about him at a flag-raising ceremony. “[My brother] had to confess that his brother had a ‘disease’ and that he was ashamed and sorry,” he said. 593 593
Amnesty International interviews.

Restrictions on former camp detainees’ freedom of movement inside China

All former detainees faced significant restrictions on their freedom of movement after they were released from the camps. Nearly all were prohibited from leaving their village or township. If they were allowed to leave, they were required to get written permission from the authorities beforehand. 594 594
Amnesty International interviews.
According to a document provided by a former detainee, the permit application had to be approved by four different local government agencies, including the police station and Party committee.

Some former detainees were put under additional detention in the form of house arrest for several months. Many were required to check in with the police or village administrators daily. A few former detainees were forced to live at the village administration office or police station for a few weeks or months. 595 595
Amnesty International interviews.

Aitugan told Amnesty how his movements were restricted after he was released: “I spent five months being monitored. I just stayed in the village. I couldn’t leave without permission. I had to report to the village office each morning. I needed permission to leave the village from the village chief,” he said. 596 596
Amnesty International interviews.

Many former detainees reported that for months after they left the camp their ID cards were programmed such that an alarm would sound whenever they travelled through the ever-present checkpoints or whenever they left their village. 597 597
Amnesty International interviews.
After an ID triggered an alarm, former detainees were often interrogated about the same things they were questioned about after their initial detention and during their time in the camp. 598 598
Amnesty International interviews.
Mahabbat, who had been detained for a year for visiting Kazakhstan, told Amnesty International how her movement was restricted after she was released from a camp:

After I was released… it was house arrest. Every time I scanned my ID it went off… I wasn’t allowed to go to another town. Even in the streets, the camp follows you… Even when I went to buy a meal, I had to fill in a form saying I had been to a camp. It was shameful… My daughter was living [in another town but] I couldn’t visit her because of this. Can you imagine going into the street and the police surrounding you every time? 599 599
Amnesty International interviews.

Other former detainees told Amnesty their ID was confiscated for a time after their release. “[When I wasn’t in class or at a flag-raising ceremony], I had to stay at home the rest of the time, because the inspector could come at any time. I had to be found in one of these places at all times. My ID was taken. I wasn’t free,” Aisanali told Amnesty. 600 600
Amnesty International interviews.

After several months some of the movement restrictions began to decrease. Many former detainees reported that some restrictions were lifted after six months. 601 601
Amnesty International interviews.
Others told Amnesty the restrictions on their movements lasted a year. 602 602
Amnesty International interviews.
One former detainee told Amnesty the restrictions on his movements were removed at the same time as those of others released when he was. 603 603
Amnesty International interviews.

Family members of former detainees also had severe restrictions placed on their movement while their family member was in a camp. Former detainees reported that their family members needed to get permission from local officials to leave their village. 604 604
Amnesty International interviews.

Restrictions on former camp detainees’ freedom to leave the country

Many former detainees told Amnesty that regaining their freedom of movement – to travel abroad and, in some cases, to travel within China outside their home villages – was contingent upon having one or more guarantors who agreed in writing that they themselves would be sent to a camp if the person they were guaranteeing spoke or shared information about the internment camp system. 605 605
Amnesty International interviews.
One older woman said she needed many guarantors to leave China. 606 606
Amnesty International interviews.

It has been difficult for minorities in Xinjiang to travel abroad for years. 607 607
See Human Rights Watch, “One Passport, Two Systems: China’s Restriction on Foreign Travel by Tibetans and Others,” 13 July 2015
The restrictions became more severe in 2015 and 2016, when members of ethnic minority populations were required to hand in their passports to the authorities. Since 2017, it has been nearly impossible for Uyghurs to leave China (For more on the difficulties faced by members of ethnic minorities who attempt to go abroad see Chapter 2). 608 608
Edward Wong, New York Times, Police Confiscate Passports in Parts of Xinjiang, in Western China,” 1 December 2016

Human Rights Watch, “China: Passports Arbitrarily Recalled in Xinjiang: Heightened Control Over Travel for Residents of Uighur Muslim Region,” 21 November 2016

Uyghur Human Rights Project, “Weaponized Passports: The Crisis of Uyghur Statelessness,” April 2020

Kazakhs’ movements have also been restricted; however, some Kazakhs with Kazakhstani citizenship or strong family ties to Kazakhstan have been able to leave China. Some observers have suggested that Kazakhs may have been released because of diplomatic interventions by Kazakhstani officials or because of the efforts of human rights organizations based in Kazakhstan.

Before leaving, people must go through a labyrinthine bureaucratic process to get their passports back and to secure permission to go abroad. 609 609
Amnesty International interviews.
Ex-detainees face a further round of interrogations by security personnel and must sign additional documents stating they will not say anything about being in a camp or else their family members will be sent to a camp.

A few detainees were forced to give video testimonies before leaving the country. Aldiyar, who spent several months trying to secure permission to travel to Kazakhstan, told Amnesty International he was forced to make a video extolling the benefits of the education he received in the camp before he was allowed to leave.

One week [after I got my passport back], people from the police called me again. Then they took my passport again and said they would keep it until a county-level official signed [the form]. And then they gave me a piece of paper to sign saying I would not disclose anything about the camp or the secrets of the People’s Republic of China, and I signed it. I made an oath that I would not disclose… After I signed, three or four cadres came to my house. They came with cameras. Before they started filming me, they told me what to say – that I went to school and that I got knowledge and that I was happy with the government and with the opportunity to gain knowledge… In front of the camera I said that the Party was taking good care of me and that the government was helping the poor people… and that during the seven or eight months of my schooling the teacher and others were friendly and that they taught me well… I was instructed to say this, so I said it. They saved the tape. They repeated to me not to say anything bad. Then I signed the paper where I said I would. Then they gave me my passport back. [Then I left the country]. 610 610
Amnesty International interviews.

Ibrahim told Amnesty he was interrogated several times while trying to get passports for his family to go to Kazakhstan. Security officials told him repeatedly that he could not talk about what happened in the camps and that he had to swear on video that he would never disclose anything about the situation. His parents were also required to sign letters of guarantee. “My parents had to say, ‘I do give my consent and I will be taken to a camp if my son ever speaks to foreign media and discloses what happened in camp’,” 611 611
Amnesty International Interviews.
he told Amnesty. Several months later, his family was given their passports.

Former detainees who managed to go aboard were often threatened with punishment if they did not return on time. 612 612
Amnesty International Interviews.
Khaina told Amnesty she was continually harassed by officials after she arrived in Kazakhstan. “Once I came to Kazakhstan, I thought I was free… But [government officials] kept calling. I realized that they would never let me live in peace,” she said. 613 613
Amnesty International Interviews.
Former detainees told Amnesty they believe their family members were sent to camps because they left the country. 614 614
Amnesty International Interviews.

Former detainees reported that government officials called them and threatened to send their family members to camps if they did not return or if they spoke out. Merdan told Amnesty that when he left Xinjiang he was told he would be sent to a camp if he did not return on time. When he did not return promptly, police called him and said they would take his father and father-in-law to a camp if he did not return. 615 615
Amnesty International Interviews.

Former detainees living abroad described being called by family members in Xinjiang – who were in the presence of government officials – asking them to return and saying that if they did not, the family member would be sent to a camp. Kuanish told Amnesty that police called him with his son, and his son said he was going to be detained if the man did not return. 616 616
Amnesty International Interviews.
Since that phone call, Kuanish has been unable to speak with his family. “I have no idea where my children are. I have no information,” he said.

‘Camp to labour’

The testimony of former detainees shows that for many, there is a clear compulsory labour component to the system of detention and of “transformation-through-education” targeting Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang. This component is also indicated in the Telegram, which states that if a detainee was designated ready for release, the group that did the final evaluation also determined whether the detainee would enter a “skills improvement class” for “intensive training” before being released. 617 617
”The Telegram” (previously cited), para 18.

Despite this being described by the Chinese authorities as a “voluntary” skills training and job placement programme, some detainees who spoke to Amnesty described arrangements that left them with little or no choice or control but to accept employment or “training placements” with minimal pay, poor working conditions, a discriminatory work environment, and often continued restrictions on their freedom of movement under threat of further punishment. These arrangements, therefore, should be considered in the context of forced or compulsory labour. 618 618
The ILO has identified 11 “indicators” that, alone or in conjunction with others, point to the possible existence of forced labour: abuse of vulnerability

deception

restriction of movement

isolation

physical and sexual violence

intimidation and threats

retention of identity documents

withholding of wages

debt bondage

abusive working and living conditions

and excessive overtime

International Labour Organization, “ILO indicators of Forced Labour,”

Amnesty International interviewed 11 former detainees who were transferred to different types of labour after their release from a camp, including three who were sent to work in factories. 619 619
Amnesty International interviews.
A few were sent to work in village administration offices, police stations, or other government buildings, where they often performed menial tasks. 620 620
Amnesty International interviews.
One was sent to work on a state-owned farm and one was made to do chores by cadres for a Han Chinese man in the village. 621 621
Amnesty International interviews.
One person was made to work as a guard in an internment camps after being detained. “They told me I could be free if I worked as a security guard at a camp,” Anarbek said. 622 622
Amnesty International Interviews.

Arzu told Amnesty that after spending six months in one camp he was transferred to another camp, where he was taught to sew in preparation for being sent to a factory. He was then required to live and work in a factory for several months making government uniforms.

During the day [at the second camp] we would sit on a plastic chair. A teacher taught language and how to make clothes. During the 21 days [we spent in the second camp] we went to class two or three times, otherwise we were just in the cell… The teachers from the screen were in [a different] class. They just showed us how to make clothes on the TV. Some guys were there [in this camp] for two years and never touched a machine… Then a list came out for people to transfer to a factory. Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Uzbeks, not Uyghurs… Then I was sent to a factory for five months, to make government uniforms at first. Then we started making dresses. I worked for eight hours a day. I had one hour of exercise in the yard… I was allowed to call family and friends, but not people abroad… There was no physical inspection, but we were given phones and asked to install a police app… We worked five days a week. The salary was 1,620 RMB [253 USD] a month… We were really ineffective. We didn’t know how to do it. They had some Chinese woman come in for one week to try to teach us. 623 623
Amnesty International interviews.

Aldiyar told Amnesty he spent three months working in a factory for low pay after being released from the camp. All workers were members of ethnic minorities but senior managers were Han Chinese:

[After I was released from the camp] they ordered me not to leave my house for 10 days… After a week they called me back and they registered me and made a list of people who had been in the camp. Then they gathered all the people on the list, and we went to a garment factory. We didn’t have a choice but to go there… The salary was low. It was impossible to take care of my family with the salary. The first month [we were paid] 200 RMB [31 USD]… The factory was on the outskirts of [redacted] county seat. Only ethnic minorities were working in the factory – Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Hui. The [only] Han were the heads of the factory… The factory made clothes, gloves, and bags. 624 624
Amnesty International interviews.

The three former detainees who provided Amnesty with accounts of being sent to work in factories after being released from detention were all ultimately able to leave those factories. This was because of a policy that allowed factory workers to return to their homes if they had secured another job and if another employer was willing to sign a letter of guarantee taking responsibility for them. Aldiyar was permitted to leave the factory at night because he lived nearby, although other people were required to live there. Every week Aldiyar had to submit a written report of what he did [to the village administration].

I was at the factory for three months. After three months, I asked if I could do my old profession. They said, ‘Okay, but you need to get a letter from your work saying that they are taking responsibility for you and to give the address of the head of your workplace’… I got the paper [signed] and went back to [the place I used to work] after I finished [high] school. 625 625
Amnesty International interviews.

Ibrahim told Amnesty he worked and lived in a factory for two weeks after being released from a camp. Some other workers in the factory had not been sent from camps; rather, they had been pressured to work in the factory when another member of their family was taken to a camp:

They took us [to the factory]… There were many buildings and many people… I had to go to the third floor… They taught us how to sew clothes. And while we were having lunch I spoke with women and girls [who worked there] and learned that those women’s husbands or girls’ fathers were in a camp. That was why they were taken there. I learned that if one family [member] was in a camp you had to work so the father or husband can get out quickly… I worked there for [some] days…. I had been a businessman before. I explained that and they let me go… The name of the factory was [redacted]… it was in the county seat… it was a linen factory… we produced clothes. 626 626
Amnesty International interviews.

Other former detainees provided second-hand accounts of people from their camps being sent to work in factories. 627 627
Amnesty International interviews.

This testimony points to a number of ways in which the authorities in Xinjiang appear to be compelling Uyghurs and other members of ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang to engage in certain types of labour, sometimes as an extension of the “education” received in the camps. Based on the evidence presented in this report, Amnesty believes the treatment of some former detainees in Xinjiang is characterised by elements of forced labour which meet the definition of ILO Convention 29. There is a lack of voluntariness accompanied by a threat of detention for non-compliance. In addition, there is evidence in some cases of poor or abusive working conditions, including low pay, isolation, restrictions on movement, and intimidation and threats. In light of this evidence there is a need for an independent, impartial thorough investigation. This situation raises serious questions that should be investigated.

Journalists and scholars have reported that large numbers of detainees have been sent to situations of what has been described as forced labour – inside and outside of camps – in Xinjiang and other parts of the country. 628 628
See Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy, New York Times, “China’s Detention Camps for Muslims Turn to Forced Labour,” 16 December 2018

John Sudworth, BBC News, “China’s ‘tainted’ cotton,” December 2020

Shohret Hoshur, Radio Free Asia, “Internment Camp Assigned Uyghur Forced Laborers to Xinjiang Textile Factor: Official,” 14 Novemebr 2019

Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, Danielle Cave, Dr James Leibold, Kelsey Munro &

Nathan Ruser, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, “Uyghurs for Sale: ‘Re-education’, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang,” 1 March 2020

Alison Killing, Megha Rajagopalan, Buzzfeed News, “The Factories in the Camps: Observers have long warned of rising forced labor in Xinjiang. Satellite images show factories built just steps away from cell blocks,” 28 December 2020 (updated 4 January 2021)

Zenz, Adrian. ‘Beyond the Camps: Beijing’s Long-Term Scheme of Coercive Labor, Poverty Alleviation and Social Control in XUAR.’ Journal of Political Risk Vol.7, No.12, 10 December 2019.
The Xinjiang Victim’s Database has reported 96 instances where people were allegedly sent from internment camps to situations of forced or compulsory labour. These former detainees described being compelled to work in garment factories, silk factories, textile factories, tea factories, electric motor assembly plants, shoe factories, and noodle factories after they were released from detention. Others were made to work as security guards or teachers. 629 629
Xinjiang Victims Database
Journalists have also reported forced transfers of large numbers Uyghurs and ethnic minorities for factories in other parts of China, with some coming directly from detention camps. 630 630
See Nathan Vanderklippe, Globe and Mail, “Thousands of Uyghurs Workers in China are being relaocated in an effort to assimilate Muslims, documents show: Xinjiang’s Muslim minorities have been moved to factories thousands of kilometres away to sever their ties to home and undermine their culture, internal documents and Chinese researchers reveal,” 2 March 2021

Eva Dou, Jeanne Whalen, and Alicia Chen, Washington Post, “U.S. ban on China’s Xinjiang cotton fractures faction industry supply chains,” 22 February 2021

Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, Danielle Cave, Dr James Leibold, Kelsey Munro &

Nathan Ruser, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, “Uyghurs for Sale: ‘Re-education’, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang,” 1 March 2020
Reports have also called into question the supply chains of numerous well-known global brands. 631 631
See Laura T. Murphy and Nyrola Elima, Sheffield Hallam University Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, “In Broad Daylight: Uyghur Forced Labour and Global Solar Supply Chains,” 2021

Alexandra Stevenson, New York Times, “China’s Forced-Labor Backlash Threatens to Put N.B.A in Unwanted Spotlight: Lucrative endorsements deals with Chinese sports brands supporting Xinjiang cotton could pull the league and its athletes back into another geopolitical firestorm,” 9 April 2021

Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, Danielle Cave, Dr James Leibold, Kelsey Munro &

Nathan Ruser, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, “Uyghurs for Sale: ‘Re-education’, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang,” 1 March 2020

‘Camp to prison’

Some detainees are transferred from internment camps to prison. Like the process of being released to go home, the seemingly related process through which camp detainees were given prison sentences is not well understood, even by former detainees who appear to have had some exposure to the process. It is also unclear how the release process and the sentencing process were connected – especially how, or if, the prison sentencing process in the camps is integrated with any formal sentencing process outside the camps.

Amnesty International was not able to interview anyone who was given a prison sentence in a camp and then sent to a prison. Amnesty did, however, interview former camp detainees who said they were given sentences that were subsequently “forgiven”. 636 636
Amnesty International interviews.
Amnesty also interviewed former detainees who said that, while they were detained, one or more of the people in their classes received prison sentences. This included in some instances sentences of 15 or 20 years, often apparently for everyday behaviour far removed from any type of recognized offence. 637 637
Amnesty International interviews.
Many of the former detainees personally knew other people – usually multiple people – who had been given prison sentences. 638 638
Amnesty International interviews.

Yerkinbek, who was living in Xinjiang in 2020, told Amnesty he believed that many people in the camps, particularly those detained for religion-related offences, had been transferred to prison. “In September 2019 we started hearing that many Kazakhs had been released from camps, but some were sent to prison for many years… I have information about 13 people [from my area] who were sentenced [and sent to prison]. Most of them were imams. I know some of them personally,” he said. 639 639
Amnesty International interviews.

At some point during their internment, many camp detainees were presented with a verdict that lists their “crimes” and often includes a custodial sentence. Former detainees said the verdicts were announced verbally at the end of a process referred to as a “trial”. However, none of the former detainees Amnesty interviewed experienced anything resembling a genuine judicial or even administrative process, let alone one that involved fair trial safeguards. Just as with their original detention in the camps, they had no opportunity to defend themselves, examine any evidence, or consult a lawyer. Some former detainees did not recall any real process preceding the announcement of a verdict and said their verdicts and those of their classmates were just read out in class. 640 640
Amnesty International interviews.
Some detainees were told that their sentence was expected to be served in the camp; others were sentenced and sent to prison.

Former detainees interviewed by Amnesty International generally believed that detainees sent to camps for religion-related “offences” were more likely to have been given subsequent prison sentences. 641 641
Deutsche Welle (DW), China convicts Uighurs in Sham trials at Xinjiang Camps, 8 June 2020
Some detainees also believe that ethnicity was correlated with whether a detainee was sent to a prison. Uyghurs were perceived as more likely to be sentenced than members of other ethnic groups.

Kairatbek told Amnesty that, while he was interned, he was taken to a “court”, which involved him answering questions similar to those he had answered during previous interrogations. He was not given a sentence, but he said many of his cellmates who appeared before the “court” were. He recounted:

A month or so before I was released, people were taken to ‘courtrooms’ and given sentences… [When I was taken to the courtroom] they just asked me what I had done… I said I had been to Kazakhstan… [The woman presiding over the process] said you need more time [in the camp]. She didn’t give me a sentence… If I’m not mistaken, she was a Uyghur. She had a list of questions… I was good at answering… It was just the two of us, talking in Uyghur… She already had documents about me in front of her… Everyone [in my cell] went to court. Some came back [to the cell] and said they got prison terms. Some were the same as me [and were not given any sentence]… Some of those who did [get sentenced] were then [moved out of the cell]. 642 642
Amnesty International interviews.

Arzu, who was one of the few former detainees Amnesty International interviewed who was temporarily placed in the strict management category and given a yellow badge, said that approximately a year into his time in the camp, several of his cellmates were taken to court and given sentences. “They took people to court. A few days later [those people] got verdicts. The staff in charge [of our cell] came to the cell and read the verdict. We can hear it read,” he said. Arzu provided Amnesty with the full names of two of his cellmates who were sentenced, and said that one was given 15 years for gathering with others and reading a book about religion and the other was given five to seven years for insulting the police and country leaders. 643 643
Amnesty International interviews.
It is not clear whether the court referred to was a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal established by law, as international law requires. 644 644
Ref Art 10 UDHR, Art 14(1) ICCPR.

Beibut, who spent nearly a year and a half in different camps, told Amnesty International he was in a class of 50, which was approximately half Uyghurs and half Kazakhs and Hui. He said all the Uyghurs, five Hui, and two Kazakhs were given sentences. “They would read verdicts in class… [One man received] ‘three years for going to a halal restaurant’… [another man received] ‘seven years for having camping equipment or boxing [equipment], because then you were involved in terrorism,” he said. 645 645
Amnesty International interviews.

Not everyone who received a guilty verdict was sent to prison. It appears that some sentences were expected to be served in the camp. Two former detainees told Amnesty that people with sentences under 10 years served them in the camp, and that people with punishments over 10 years were sent to prison. 646 646
Amnesty International interviews.
Journalists who have reported on such proceedings have documented similar results. 647 647
Deutsche Welle (DW), China convicts Uighurs in Sham trials at Xinjiang Camps, 8 June 2020

Meryemgul, who said she was sent to a camp for refusing to work for the government, told Amnesty International that officials started giving verdicts to people in her class several months after she arrived in the camp. “[Mine said] that I deserved five to 10 years but that the government was merciful so I didn’t need to go to prison… they said that my sin was going to a country that was on the sensitive country list and not cooperating with the neighbourhood committee.” 648 648
Amnesty International interviews.
Meryemgul was subsequently released after an appeal from family members abroad.

It is possible that some of the verdicts described by former detainees were actually meant to scare detainees and motivate them to behave more compliantly and accept the “education” they were receiving in the camp. Most former detainees Amnesty interviewed were initially given guilty verdicts, and a few were given prison sentences; however, those sentences were rescinded and none of the former detainees Amnesty interviewed was sent to prison. Because Amnesty International has not been able to speak to anyone who was sent to prison from an internment camp, it is difficult to know whether or how much such individuals’ experience may have differed.

At the very least, camp detainees believed there was a real possibility of being sent to prison on the basis of the verdicts they received. Aitugan told Amnesty that people who received sentences of 10 years or more were sent directly to prison, including three men from his class – two Uyghurs and one Kazakh. He said he was told this secretly by staff in the camp. “Those verdicts over 10 years are directly sent to prison; the family gets the verdict. Those teachers in camp, they talked secretly to us [and told us that people were sent to prison],” he said. 649 649
Amnesty International interviews.

Qazir, who was sent to a camp because of his involvement with his local mosque, told Amnesty that one day while in class people were called one by one to another room and told what their verdict was:

People who were religious got [between] two- and 10-year prison terms. The person who was an imam in a mosque in my village was given a seven-year sentence… He told me about the sentence. We were in the same room… Initially I was given three to five years but then they forgave me and I wasn’t given a prison term… They didn’t explain why. Maybe because [a relative] did an appeal for [my release] from Kazakhstan. 650 650
Amnesty International interviews.

Amnesty also interviewed a former government official who was responsible for informing families when their detained family members were given prison sentences. The official said that several government cadres, including one who was allegedly representing the judicial system, would go to the houses of families of people who had been sentenced. “We just read from a piece of paper. There was no [official] stamp or signature. Just the [crimes]… for each person it was different ‘crimes’. [Sometimes] the paper would say that the crime was one of the 75 signs of extremism,” Aiman said. 651 651
Amnesty International interviews.

The accounts of the release process given to Amnesty are consistent with accounts other former detainees have provided to journalists. 652 652
Deutsche Welle (DW), China convicts Uighurs in Sham trials at Xinjiang Camps, 8 June 2020

Gene A. Bunin, Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, “From camps to prisons: Xinjiang’s next great human rights catastrophe,” 5 October 2019
Testimonies given to journalists refer to “sham trials”, which could lead people to be transferred from the camps to prison. As part of this process, detainees were handed a list of infractions from which they retroactively chose a crime for which they were detained in the camps – likely the 75 manifestations of extremism. Detainees who refused to choose a crime from this list were reportedly threatened with indefinite detention. Journalists have also reported camp detainees being sent to prisons in parts of China outside of Xinjiang. 653 653
Shohret Hoshur, Radio Free Asia, “China Spiriting Uyghur Detainees Away from Xinjiang to Prisons in Inner Mongolia, Sichuan,”

Dramatic increase in prison sentences in Xinjiang since 2017

Since 2017, massive numbers of individuals from ethnic minority groups have been sent to prisons in Xinjiang. 654 654
Chinese Human Rights Defenders, “Criminal Arrests in Xinjiang Account for 21% of China’s Total in 2017: China’s Counter-Terror Campaign Indiscriminately Targets Ethnic &

Religious Minorities in Xinjiang,” 25 July 2018

The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, The Elephant in the XUAR: II. Brand new prisons, expanding old prisons, &

hundreds of thousands of new inmates, Gene A. Bunin, 4 January 2021
Journalists at The New York Times, relying entirely on Chinese government statistics, demonstrated that incarceration rates in Xinjiang increased dramatically in 2017 and 2018, with hundreds of thousands more people being sent to prisons than on average – a 10-fold increase – in previous years. The data reportedly include prison sentences and “other criminal punishments, which can include suspended sentences or house detention”. 655 655
New York Times. China’s Prisons Swell After Deluge of Arrests Engulfs Muslims: Arrests, trials and prison sentences have surged in Xinjiang, where Uighurs and Kazakhs also face reeducation, 31 August 2019

Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), 25 July 2018, www.nchrd.org/2018/07/criminal-arrests-in-xinjiang-account-for-21-of-chinas-total-in-2017
Since The New York Times investigation, the government has not released any more data on incarceration rates in Xinjiang.

It is not known how many – if any – of the people included in the official government statistics were initially sent to internment camps and then given prison sentences and transferred to prisons. There is evidence that some people – perhaps large numbers – have been sent from internment camps to prisons or other detention facilities. 656 656
Shohret Hoshur, Radio Free Asia, Xinjiang Authorities Secretly Transferring Uyghur Detainees to Jails Throughout China, 2 October 2018

Holly Robertson, ABC News, “China reportedly begins mass transfers of Uighur detainees from Xinjiang to prisons nationwide, 9 October 2018

According to another report by Human Rights Watch, also relying on Chinese government statistics, in 2017 there was a dramatic increase in the number of lengthy sentences handed down by courts in Xinjiang. Before 2017, prison sentences longer than five years accounted for approximately 11% of the total number of people sentenced. In 2017, 87% of sentences were more than five years. 657 657
Human Rights Watch, China: Baseless Imprisonments Surge in Xinjiang – Harsh, Unjust Sentences for Uyghurs, Other Muslims, 24 February 2021

Unlike people who are sent to internment camps, who undergo no meaningful legal process, people who are sent to prison are reportedly prosecuted and convicted in accordance with formal legal rules. 658 658
The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, The Elephant in the XUAR:III “In accordance with the law”, Gene A. Bunin, 19 April 2021
This legal process, however, fails in multiple respects to comply with international human rights law and standards related to fair trial rights. According to an academic analysis, authorities made public only about 10% of the criminal verdicts from Xinjiang in 2018, dramatically fewer than in the rest of the country. 659 659
The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, The Elephant in the XUAR:III “In accordance with the law”, Gene A. Bunin, 19 April 2021

and
Moreover, the overwhelming majority of those made public were for violent, property, or financial crimes – with fewer than 1% of the public verdicts related to “‘crimes’ typically applied to Xinjiang’s ethnic-minority population (e.g., ‘terrorism’, ‘extremism’, ‘inciting ethnic hatred’, ‘disturbing social order’)”. Human Rights Watch’s analysis of 60 of the public verdicts “suggests that many people have been convicted and imprisoned without committing a genuine offense.” 660 660
Human Rights Watch, China: Baseless Imprisonments Surge in Xinjiang – Harsh, Unjust Sentences for Uyghurs, Other Muslims, 24 February 2021

All of the former detainees Amnesty International interviewed for this report were detained in internment camps, not prisons. No one given a formal prison sentence and sent to prison in Xinjiang since 2017 has spoken publicly about their experience.

The debate around the evolution of the internment camp system and the larger system of mass incarceration in Xinjiang

In 2017, many of the internment camps were in former schools and other government buildings that had been securitized and otherwise repurposed to house detainees and prevent escapes. 664 664
See Ben Dooley, AFP, “Inside China’s internment camps: tear gas, Tasers and textbooks,” 24 October 2018

Nather Ruser, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (APSI), “Documenting Xinjiang’s detention system,” September 2020
Repurposing often entailed the construction of internal fencing, external security walls, guard towers and posts, and other new structures. In 2018, some detainees in the initial camps were transferred to new, larger facilities – often on the outskirts of towns – that had been constructed specifically as detention facilities. 665 665
Amnesty International interviews.
Some of these new facilities were constructed adjacent to existing prisons and are arguably expansions of these. 666 666
Nather Ruser, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (APSI), “Documenting Xinjiang’s detention system,” September 2020
According to analysis of satellite imagery by Amnesty International and other organizations, between 2018 and 2020 many of the repurposed facilities appear to have been de-securitized, often coinciding closely with the apparent completion of the new, larger facilities.

In May 2021, Amnesty International analysed the latest high-resolution satellite imagery of 29 facilities that it was able to concretely or likely identify based on descriptions provided by former detainees about the camps they were detained in. Nearly all of these facilities – including all of those that had been repurposed and turned into camps in 2017 – appear to have been de-securitized between 2018 and 2020 and are likely no longer operating as camps. of the larger facilities Amnesty analysed show signs of activity; however, Amnesty has been unable to determine whether these facilities are still being used as internment camps or for some other purpose. This analysis partially corroborates a September 2020 analysis of satellite imagery by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), which concluded that 70 of 380 suspected detention facilities in Xinjiang had been closed or de-securitized since 2018. 667 667
Nather Ruser, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (APSI), “Documenting Xinjiang’s detention system,” September 2020
Research by the Rand Corporation, using night-time light data to analyse the 380 locations documented by ASPI, found 51 locations had significant declines in the amount of light emitted by 24 February 2021, which also suggests the facilities were no longer operational. 668 668
Eric Robinson and Sean Mann, NGA Tearline and The Rand Corporation, “NGA Tearline: What can nighttime lighting tell us about China’s Uyghur Detention Facilities?”

It is not known whether certain camps were dismantled because there were fewer detainees, because newer camps or prisons had been built to replace some of the original buildings, because of some combination of these two reasons, or for other reasons. According to satellite imagery analysis done by BuzzFeed News and ASPI, despite the closures of many camps, the infrastructure for the system of mass incarceration in Xinjiang expanded greatly between 2017 and 2020. ASPI concluded that at least 61 detention facilities had been expanded or built between July 2019 and July 2020, including at least 14 facilities – mostly prisons – that were still being built. 669 669
Nathan Ruser, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (APSI), “Documenting Xinjiang’s detention system,” September 2020
BuzzFeed’s analysis unearthed evidence of “scores of massive new prison and internment camps” that had been built since 2017, many of which were still operating in 2020. 670 670
Megha Rajagopalan, Alison Killing, Christo Buschek, BuzzFeed, “Built to Last: A BuzzFeed News investigation based on thousands of satellite images reveals a vast, growing infrastructure for long-term detention and incarceration,” 27 August 2020

Alison Killing, Megha Rajagopalan, Christo Buschek, BuzzFeed News, “Blanked-out spots on China’s Map Helped Us Uncover Xinjiang’s Camps,” 27 August 2020

It is not known whether many of these new detention facilities are prisons, internment camps, hybrids, or some other type of detention facility. In 2021, it is also not known whether the people detained in these facilities were detained according to the internment camp detention process, according to the formal prison sentencing process, or through some other process altogether. From a human rights perspective, the type of facility is not important; what matters is whether the detention process and the treatment detainees receive in the camps adhere to international law and standards.

The debate around the current status of internment camp detainees

In July 2019, Shohrat Zakir, the governor of Xinjiang, reportedly said that 90% of the people detained in internment camps in Xinjiang had been released. 671 671
Reuters, “’Most people’ detained in Xinjiang camps have been released, China claims: Official in Chinese region says detainees have ‘returned home’ but US calls for evidence and a UN inspection,” 30 July 2019

Chris Buckley and Edward Wong, New York Times, “Doubt Greets China’s Claim That Muslims Have Been Released from Camps,” 30 July 2019
In December 2019 he announced that the camps had been closed and that all people residing in those facilities had “returned to society.” 672 672
Lily Kuo, The Guardian, “China claims detained Uighurs have been freed: Xinjiang governor offers no evidence of release but says “trainees’ have found stable jobs,” 9 December 2019

Yanan Wang, Associated Press (AP), “China claims everyone in Xinjiang camps has “graduated’,” 9 December 2019

XINHUANET, “Trainees in Xinjiang education, training program have all graduated: official,” 9 December 2019
The government provided no evidence to support its sweeping assertions. 673 673
Lily Kuo, The Guardian, “China claims detained Uighurs have been freed: Xinjiang governor offers no evidence of release but says “trainees’ have found stable jobs,” 9 December 2019

Amnesty International, “China: Government must show proof that Xinjiang detainees have been released,” 9 December 2019
Moreover, after the announcements, it continued to go to extraordinary lengths to prevent the public from obtaining information about the camps and the detained population. 674 674
John Sudworth, BBC News, “China’s pressure and propaganda – the reality of reporting Xinjiang,” 15 January 2021

Human Rights Watch, “China’s Weak Excuse to Block Investigations in Xinjiang: Ambassador Claims ‘Unreasonable, Unnecessary Obstacles’ Prevent UN Visit,” 25 March 2020

Cate Cadell, Tony Munroe, Reuters, “BBC journalist leaves China citing threats, obstruction,” 31 March 2021

James Griffiths, CNN, “From cover-up to propaganda blitz: China’s attempts to control the narrative on Xinjiang,” 17 April 2021

As a result of the absence of evidence provided by the government and tremendous difficulties in obtaining accurate information from Xinjiang, there has been significant debate among former detainees, family members of people believed to be missing or detained in Xinjiang, other members of the diaspora, diplomats, journalists, and scholars about the truth of the government’s statements about the alleged closure of the camps and release of the detainees. 675 675
Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy, “Night Images Reveal Many New Detention Sites in China’s Xinjiang Region: China said it was winding down its “re-education” camps for Uighurs and other minorities, but researchers found evidence that incarceration in is on the rise,” 24 September 2020

Al-Jazeera, “What’s happening with China’s Uighurs? Start here,” 21 February 2021

Radio Free Asia (RFA), “Three Camps in Xinjiang’s Uchturpan Believed to Hold Ten Percent of the County’s Uyghur Population,” 10 September 2020

Gene A. Bunin, Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, “From camps to prisons: Xinjiang’s next great human rights catastrophe,” 5 October 2019

Gene A. Bunin, The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, The Elephant in the XUAR: II. Brand new prisons, expanding old prisons, &

hundreds of thousands of new inmates, 4 January 2021

On the one hand, as evidenced by the testimonies documented in this report and by journalists and other organizations, many internment camp detainees have been released. 676 676
Gene A. Bunin, Foreign Policy. “Detainees Are Trickling Out of Xinjiang’s Camps: House arrest or forced labor awaits most of those released so far in what may be a public relations ploy,” 18 January 2019

Alison Killing and Megha Rajagopalan, BuzzFeed News, What They Saw: Ex-Prisoners Detail The Horrors of China’s Detention Camps, 27 August 2020
All former detainees interviewed by Amnesty, journalists, and other organizations had been released by the time of the government’s announcement. 677 677
Amnesty international interviews

Xinjiang Victims Database
These former detainees, other former residents of Xinjiang, and other people living abroad have also provided accounts about other detainees who had also been released by this time. 678 678
Amnesty international interviews

Xinjiang Victims Database
The Xinjiang Victim’s Database documented 583 camp releases in late 2018 and early 2019. 679 679
Xinjiang Victims Database

On the other hand, the fact that some detainees have been released and some camps have closed does not necessarily support the government’s broader claims. Family members of a small number of former detainees have reported that their family members were released from camps after December 2019, which directly contradicts the government’s claims that the camps were all closed by that time. 680 680
Amnesty International interviews.
Several former detainees, other former residents of Xinjiang, and family members of people believed to be missing or detained who were interviewed by Amnesty said that they knew people who they believed were still detained in camps in Xinjiang. 681 681
Amnesty International interviews.

Regardless of the number of people still detained in internment camps, there is credible evidence that many of the people sent to internment camps in Xinjiang are still detained in some form, either in camps or some other type of detention facility. Large numbers of people are still reporting that their family members are missing and believed to be detained in camps, prisons, or other detention facilities in Xinjiang. 682 682
The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, The Elephant in the XUAR:III “In accordance with the law”, Gene A. Bunin, 19 April 2021
There is evidence that some people – perhaps large numbers – have been sent from internment camps to prisons or other detention facilities. 683 683
Shohret Hoshur, Radio Free Asia, Xinjiang Authorities Secretly Transferring Uyghur Detainees to Jails Throughout China, 2 October 2018

Holly Robertson, ABC News, “China reportedly begins mass transfers of Uighur detainees from Xinjiang to prisons nationwide, 9 October 2018

Gene A. Bunin, Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, “From camps to prisons: Xinjiang’s next great human rights catastrophe,” 5 October 2019
Former detainees interviewed by Amnesty and other organizations, and friends and family of detainees, have been sent to prisons. 684 684
Reuters, “’Most people’ detained in Xinjiang camps have been released, China claims: Official in Chinese region says detainees have ‘returned home’ but US calls for evidence and a UN inspection,” 30 July 2019
The Xinjiang Victims Database has reported over 500 cases of people being sent from “situations of prolonged detention to prison;” however, only a minority of these people were transferred from camps, the majority were transferred from other types of detention facilities, such as “detention centres”. 685 685
Xinjiang Victims Database
Given the lack of transparency with respect to prison sentences, the true number is unknown.

Satellite Imagery

Imagery of the town of Karamay shows various detention facilities since 2016 within and just outside of the town.

The town of Karamay is located in Karamay county in Xinjiang approximately 275 kilometres northwest of Urumqi. There have been multiple reports of detention in the town. 686 686
See Xinjiang Victims Database
From 2017 to 2019, satellite imagery shows an old facility on the northern edge of town – west of a traffic school – that appears to have been repurposed as a detention facility, then de-securitized. Nearby is a prison that is demolished by August 2020. While activity is visible at the two facilities in 2017 and 2018, a large “highly secure” and “secure” facility, adjacent to each other, are under construction six kilometres west of town.

Satellite imagery shows the transition of an internment camp between 2016 and 2021. On 17 September 2016, very little activity is visible. On 24 June 2018, imagery shows a new building along with security increases such as a new enclosing wall, entrance checkpoints, fences and gates. There is also a new parking area and many cars are visible. By 28 June 2019, few cars are visible in the area and the facility appears to be de-securitized with the checkpoints no longer present, fence missing and gate open. The latest image from 14 April 2021, shows many vehicles within a previously secure area – suggesting it is being used for another purpose.

Satellite imagery shows the old prison in the centre of Karamay. Between 11 March and 16 August 2020, the facility is demolished. A new facility with similar buildings has been constructed six kilometres west of town.

An overview of the new facilities west of Karamay shows a secure facility with an external and internal walled perimeter. To the south, there is a highly secure facility with external and internal walls, guard towers, and buildings that resemble the old prison. The facilities appear to have parking areas independent of each other. On 23 May 2021, imagery shows vehicles in each parking area.

A closer look at the northern secure facility shows many vehicles present outside and within the walled perimeters on 14 April 2021. There are 58 vehicles in the external parking area. This facility first appeared operational in imagery from 8 April 2019, around the time the internment camp first appears de-securitized.

On 23 May 2021, imagery shows fewer vehicles within and outside of the facility. Only 27 vehicles were counted in the main parking lot. As the image was taken on a Sunday, it is difficult to assess the cause of the decrease and continued monitoring is required to better understand the activity level.

i

Female detainees exit their cell by crawling under a chain that connects the cell door to the wall.

Chapter 7

International Legal Framework

Overview of violations of international law

Evidence collected by Amnesty International provides a factual basis for the conclusion that the government of China has committed crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, including the crimes against humanity of imprisonment, torture, and persecution. 687 687
See also: Human Rights Watch, “’Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots,’: China’s Crimes against Humanity Targeting Uyghurs and Other Turkic Muslims,” 19 April 2021

Alison Macdonald, Jackie McArthur, Naomi Hart, and Lorraine Aboagye, Essex Court Chambers, “International Criminal Responsibility for Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide Against the Uyghur Population in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” 26 January 2021

Economist, “’Genocide’ is the wrong word for the horrors of Xinjiang: To confront evil, the first step is to describe it accurately,”
This evidence also demonstrates that the government has committed other serious violations of human rights, including the rights to liberty and security of person; to privacy; to freedom of movement; to opinion and expression; to thought, conscience, religion and belief; to participate in cultural life; and to equality and non-discrimination. These crimes have been perpetrated against members of the region’s predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups, including ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Hui, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks.

Buses carrying detainees arrive at an internment camp.

The former detainee testimonies Amnesty International has gathered form the basis of these conclusions. These testimonies are corroborated by leaked Chinese government documents and other credible testimonial, photographic, and documentary evidence collected by journalists, scholars, and investigators. Taken together, this evidence clearly illustrates that serious human rights violations documented in this report follow a consistent pattern of criminal conduct and are part of well documented government policy that is knowingly and purposefully being carried out on a massive scale by government officials all over Xinjiang. As a result, an independent, impartial, prompt, and effective investigation is needed to determine a comprehensive picture of these violations and to establish individual criminal responsibility for these crimes.

Evidence of the crimes against humanity of imprisonment, torture, and persecution

According to the evidence Amnesty International has gathered, corroborated by other reliable sources, members of predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have been subjected to an attack meeting all the contextual elements of crimes against humanity under international law.

The widespread nature of the attack is evident both because huge numbers of individuals from predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang have been imprisoned, tortured, or persecuted and because these violations have occurred throughout the geographical area of Xinjiang. The violations appear to have been systematic since the victims have been subjected to the same or comparable forms of persecution, deprivation of liberty, conditions of detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and harassment and surveillance on release, regardless of where they were seized and where they were detained. All were detained in various camps administered by Chinese state authorities throughout the region, making it inconceivable that these violations are random occurrences.

The same evidence demonstrates that these violations were organized, planned, and committed consequent to a state policy to direct an attack against a civilian population – in this case members of predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups. Evidence also shows that violence, arbitrary and unlawful imprisonment, and intimidation to achieve the government’s aims to ostensibly eradicate “terrorism”, “extremism”, and “separatism” are, in effect, also used to target Islamic religious practices and beliefs and Turkic Muslim ethno-cultural practices. These acts have been targeted exclusively at members of predominantly Muslim ethnic groups and effectively all members of these groups are vulnerable to imprisonment and ill-treatment, demonstrating that the attack has been directed at a civilian population.

The evidence Amnesty has collected therefore provides a factual basis for the conclusion that the perpetrators, acting on behalf of the Chinese state, have carried out a widespread as well as systematic attack consisting of a planned, massive, organized, and systematic pattern of serious violations of international human rights law directed at the civilian population in Xinjiang.

Evidence Amnesty International has collected provides a factual basis for the conclusion that the Chinese government has committed at least the following crimes against humanity:

  • Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law: 688 688
    Rome Statute, Artilce 7(1)(e).
    Under the Rome Stature, this offence requires that “The perpetrator imprisoned one or more persons or otherwise severely deprived one or more persons of physical liberty,” and that “[t]he gravity of the conduct was such that it was in violation of fundamental rules of international law.” 689 689
    For the elements of the crime against humanity of imprisonment see International Criminal Court The Elements of Crimes, Article 7(1)(e)
    The 55 former detainees interviewed for this report provided accounts of their arbitrary detention and the arbitrary detention of other people detained with them in internment camps throughout Xinjiang. Evidence gathered by journalists, scholars, and other investigators suggests that massive numbers – estimated at 1 million or more – of men and women have been arbitrarily detained in internment camps or prisons throughout Xinjiang since 2017.

  • Torture: 690 690
    Unlike torture as defined in Article 

    1 of the CAT, there is no requirement that the ill-treatment be committed for a specific purpose, or a requirement that the ill-treatment be “inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. In addition, the Rome Statute does not explicitly differentiate between torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment as the CAT does. Nevertheless, the ICC has held that a conviction of the crime against humanity of torture will require “an important degree of pain and suffering”, implying that the threshold under the CAT may apply (See Prosecutor v Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II, Decision Pursuant to Article 61(7)(a) and (b) of the Rome Statute ICC-01/05-01/08 15 June 2009 para 193). However, the ICC has also held that it will not judge the severity of each incident of ill-treatment

    instead, it will consider the cumulative effect of a course of conduct. (Prosecutor v. Krnojelac, ICTY Trial Chamber II, Judgement, IT-97-25-T, 15 March, paras. 182-183. See also, Prosecutor v. Brđanin, ICTY Appeals Chamber, Judgement, IT-99-36-A, 3 April 2007, para. 251, citing Prosecutor v. Naletilić and Martinović, ICTY Appeals Chamber, Judgement, IT-98-34-A, 3 May 2006, para. 299

    Prosecutor v. Delalić et al., ICTY Trial Chamber, Judgement, IT-96-21-T, 16 November 1998 (“Delalić Trial Judgement”), para. 467

    Ireland v. United Kingdom, Case no. 5310/71, Judgment, 18 January 1978, para. 162.)
    Under the Rome Statute, torture means the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused; except that torture shall not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions.” 691 691
    Rome Statute, Article 7(1)(f) and 7(2)(e)

    For the elements of the crime against humanity of torture see International Criminal Court The Elements of Crimes, Article 7(1)(f)
    The 55 former detainees interviewed for this report provided accounts of torture and other ill-treatment they experienced inside the internment camps, as well of torture and other ill-treatment they witnessed being done to other detainees in their camps. This ill-treatment includes the physical torture of a significant portion of the internment camp population by prolonged and severe beatings, electric shocks, stress positions, the internationally unlawful use of restraints (including being locked in a tiger chair), the physical consequences of sleep deprivation, and solitary confinement.

This ill-treatment also includes the physical and mental torture or other ill-treatment of all internment camp detainees as a result of the cumulative effects of daily life in the camps, which may also amount to torture as defined under international criminal law. This treatment includes being made to sit, kneel, or stand in stress positions for hours every day; sleep deprivation; and insufficient food, water, exercise, and exposure to natural light. It also includes various forms of psychological abuse, including and exacerbated by not knowing when one’s detention will end, not being able to communicate with one’s family or anyone outside the camp, not being able to speak in one’s native language while in detention, living under constant threat of violence and other abuse, and being made to see and hear other detainees being tortured or otherwise ill-treated. This testimonial evidence is broadly consistent with other first- and second-hand accounts of torture and other ill-treatment documented by journalists and other human rights organizations.

  • Persecution: The Rome Statute defines persecution as “the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity”. 692 692
    Rome Statute, Article 7(1)(h) and 7(2)(g)

    for the elements of the crime against humanity of “Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court,” see International Criminal Court The Elements of Crimes, Article 7(1)(h)
    The evidence Amnesty has gathered strongly indicates that such persecution has occurred, including through the ethnically targeted campaign of mass arbitrary detention and torture documented in this report, as well as other ethnically targeted grave violations of human rights, including the rights to liberty and security of person; to privacy; to the freedoms of movement, opinion, expression, thought, conscience, religion, and belief; to take part in cultural life; and to equality and non-discrimination, documented in Chapter 2.

Evidence of other crimes against humanity

Evidence from numerous sources suggests that other crimes against humanity may have been committed. Considering the extreme restrictions on accessing Xinjiang and the difficulties faced in documenting violations committed in the region, Amnesty International believes further independent international investigations into these allegations must also be prioritized.

These potential other crimes against humanity include enforced disappearances of persons. 710 710
Amnesty International considers that the prohibition of enforced disappearance is a peremptory norm of general international law (jus cogens). Every instance of secret detention, which places people outside the protection of the law, facilitating torture and other human rights violations and is itself prohibited under international law, amounts to an enforced disappearance. Detention without access to the outside world (incommunicado detention) equally facilitates torture and other ill-treatment and enforced disappearance and can itself amount to such practices. Enforced disappearance is absolutely prohibited as a crime under international law. When committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population, enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity (Article 5 of the Convention on Enforced Disappearance)

Under the Rome Statute enforced disappearances means “the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time.” Rome Statute, Article 7(1)(i) and 7(2)(i)

For the elements of the crime against humanity of enforced disappearance of persons see International Criminal Court The Elements of Crimes, Article 7(1)(i)

The Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (CPED) defines this crime as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”

CPED, Article (2)

Although China is not a party to the CPED, it is bound by the prohibition of committing enforced disappearance under customary international law and other human rights treaties of which it is party, such as the Convention against Torture.
Evidence Amnesty has collected shows that in the cases of nearly all the former detainees documented in this report, detainees’ family members were aware of their detention and were able to communicate with them during their detention, although this communication was often very infrequent and always monitored and controlled. In two cases, however, former detainees were detained for months or years apparently without their families having any information about the detained person’s fate.

There are, however, numerous suspected cases of enforced disappearance in Xinjiang. 711 711
Amnesty International, China: “Where are They?”—Time for Answers about Mass Detentions in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” 7 September 2018

Amnesty International, “Families of missing Uighurs terrified to search for their loved ones,” March 31, 2019

See also Xinjiang Victims Database for large numbers of cases of alleged enforced disappearances
In 2021, Amnesty interviewed more that 50 people from Xinjiang who were now living abroad and whose family members were missing and believed to be detained. 712 712
The cases of many of the missing and detained people are available at:
Journalists have also reported on people living abroad who are unable to obtain information about family members they suspect have been detained. 713 713
See Austin Ramzy, New York Times, “‘Show Me That My Father is Alive.’ China Faces Torrent of Online Pleas,” February 17, 2019
It is unknown whether the family members of these detainees who are still in Xinjiang have been informed about the whereabouts of these individuals.

It is part of the extensive cover-up by the authorities that the fate of many of the people thought to have been sent to the camps is unknown. The secretive and often undocumented way people are detained in internment camps in Xinjiang makes it nearly impossible for people outside of China to trace or confirm the whereabouts of any particular individual. Persons from Xinjiang who are now abroad often have no way to establish the whereabouts of their missing family members. 714 714
Amnesty International, “Nowhere Feels Safe: Uyghurs Tell of China-led Intimidation Campaign Abroad,” 21 February 2020
They never receive any official confirmation of this from the Chinese authorities. People who have tried to gather information from Chinese consulates abroad have been told to return to China to get information. 715 715
Amnesty International, “Hearts and Lives Broken: The Nightmare of Uyghur Families Separated by Repression,” 19 March 2021

See also section 6.4 “camp to labour”.
Overseas family members’ lack of information is also due, in large part, to the fact that people living in Xinjiang have essentially been forbidden to speak with their family or friends abroad, especially about anything related to the system of mass detention. (As documented in Chapters 2 and 3, mere communication with anyone abroad is grounds for being sent to an internment camp.)

Evidence gathered by journalists, scholars, and other investigators has further demonstrated that three other crimes against humanity may have been committed in Xinjiang: enslavement 716 716
“Enslavement” means the exercise of any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership over a person and includes the exercise of such power in the course of trafficking in persons, in particular women and children

for the elements of the crime against humanity of Enslavement see International Criminal Court The Elements of Crimes, Article 7(1)(c)

See also section 6.4 “camp to labour”.
; deportation or forcible transfer of population 717 717
“Deportation or forcible transfer of population” means forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law

for the elements of the crime against humanity of deportation of forcible transfer of population see International Criminal Court The Elements of Crimes, Article 7(1)(d)

See also text box on “Allegations of sexual violence and violations of reproductive rights”.
; and rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity.

Evidence of other serious violations of international human rights law

Evidence gathered from former detainees and other witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International demonstrates that the Chinese authorities have committed serious violations of human rights, which in addition to underlying many of the crimes against humanity described above, entail state responsibility in their own right. These human rights violations include grave violations of the rights to liberty and security of person; to privacy; to freedom of movement; to opinion and expression; to thought, conscience, religion, and belief; to take part in cultural life; to equality and non-discrimination; and to freedom from forced labour. Amnesty International believes further independent international investigations into these allegations must also be prioritized.

In particular, the evidence collected for this report documents serious violations of the following human rights:

  • Freedom of religion and the right to take part in cultural life: The restrictions on religious and cultural practice documented in Chapters 2 and 4 are clear violations of the rights to freedom of religion and to take part in cultural life. These violations include the fact that as part of the apparent campaign to root out Islamic religious practices and to culturally assimilate Muslims in Xinjiang, numerous practices that Muslims widely consider essential to their religion, such as praying and carrying out traditional rituals and ceremonies, are now, in effect, prohibited and are grounds for being sent to an internment camp, though they are not explicitly prohibited by law in Xinjiang. Many former detainees explained that they effectively stopped displaying any signs of being religious for fear of detention or other punishment.The prohibition on possessing religious or cultural artefacts and the destruction of religious and cultural sites are also violations of the right to freedom of religion and of the state’s duty to protect cultural property and heritage. The fact that languages other than Chinese have been banned in the internment camps and heavily restricted outside the camps is a violation of the right of linguistic minorities to use their own language. Moreover, the entire internment camp system is designed in a way that not only prevents Muslim detainees from being able to practise any aspect of their religion but also attempts to forcibly indoctrinate them against Islamic religious practice and belief.
  • Freedom of movement: The restrictions on freedom of movement documented in Chapters 2 and 6 go far beyond what could be considered necessary and proportionate for a recognized aim and lack any effective safeguards. Examples of disproportionate limitations on the right to freedom of movement include:
    • general requirements to obtain official permission before travelling either internally or abroad;
    • the blanket confiscation of passports;
    • the state’s refusal to issue a passport or extend its validity based on unnecessary legal rules or administrative measures; and
    • the ubiquitous system of checkpoints.
    • An especially egregious violation of the freedom of movement is that travelling abroad, attempting to travel abroad, or communicating with people abroad is grounds for being detained and sent to an internment camp. Limitations are particularly excessive for former internment camp detainees, in many cases amounting to a form of detention.
  • Liberty and security of person: The instances of arbitrary detention documented in this report are clear violations of the right to liberty of person.
  • Privacy: The instances documented in Chapters 2 and 6 go far beyond what could be considered legitimate, necessary, or proportionate limitations on privacy, and they lack the adequate safeguards to be considered “provided by law”. Example of unjustified limitations include:
    • demands for involuntary provision of excessive biometric data and the massive collection and retention of this and other personal information;
    • regular searches and interrogations by ubiquitous security officers without reasonable grounds or suspicion;
    • “homestays” by government employees and cadres assigned to live with ethnic minority families;
    • an ever-present network of indiscriminate mass surveillance cameras, including facial recognition cameras and other extensive, invasive in-person and electronic monitoring;
    • random checks of private phones and other unfettered access to people’s personal communication devices, including their contacts and social media accounts; attempts to restrict all personal digital communication to apps and platforms that the government can access and monitor; and making the possession of unsanctioned software on a phone or visiting a forbidden website grounds for being detained and sent to an internment camp.
  • Opinion and expression: The ceaseless forced political indoctrination, especially during camp internment but also afterwards, violates the right to hold opinions, which is absolute and not open to any qualifications, such as on the grounds of national security. This violation is demonstrated by forced indoctrination aimed at rooting out Islamic religious beliefs and Turkic Muslim ethno-cultural practices and replacing them with secular state-sanctioned views and behaviours. The ultimate goal is to forcibly assimilate members of these ethnic groups into a homogenous Chinese nation possessing a unified language, culture, and unwavering loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. The various ways in which former detainees are forbidden to talk about their experiences also violates the right to opinion and expression. The restrictions on the right to freedom of expression described in Chapter 2 also go beyond what is legitimate and proportionate.
  • Equality and non-discrimination: Testimony that former residents of Xinjiang and other witnesses provided to Amnesty demonstrates a policy of discriminating against Muslim minorities. The testimony also shows restrictions on human rights documented in this report enforced in a discriminatory manner. As an illustration, former detainees said the police stopped only members of ethnic minorities on the street or at checkpoints, where they were subjected to ID checks and body searches; Han Chinese either did not need to go through the checkpoints at all or were essentially waved through without having their bodies or phones searched and without being questioned. Furthermore, Han Chinese were not compelled to attend flag-raising ceremonies or to attend “education” classes.The state also fails to protect against discrimination by third parties. For example, members of ethnic minority groups faced much greater difficulty accessing public transport and commercial entities such as hotels and shops. Taken as a whole, the treatment of predominantly Muslim ethnic groups runs starkly counter to the state’s duties to eliminate, prevent, and remedy discrimination – not only by its own officials but also by private individuals and other non-state actors – and to take positive steps to address longstanding disadvantages that those groups experience.
  • Freedom from forced labour: Based on the evidence presented in this report, Amnesty believes the treatment of some former detainees in Xinjiang is characterised by elements of forced labour which meet the definition of ILO Convention 29. There is a lack of voluntariness accompanied by a threat of detention for non-compliance. In addition, there is evidence in some cases of poor or abusive working conditions, including low pay, isolation, restrictions on movement, and intimidation and threats.
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Detainees in a “class” at an internment camp.

Chapter 8

Conclusions

Since 2017, under the guise of a campaign against “terrorism”, the government of China has carried out massive and systematic abuses against millions of Muslims living in Xinjiang. The human suffering has been immense. The abuses are ongoing.

Chinese authorities initially denied the existence of this campaign. Then, perhaps because mounting evidence made outright denial indefensible, they advanced other explanations; for example, that Muslims were participating in a voluntary “education” or “training” programme. They also provided quasi-legal justifications for their actions as being a legitimate response to “terrorism” or “extremism”. Moreover, the government has devoted – and continues to devote – tremendous resources to concealing the truth about its actions. It prevents millions of people living in Xinjiang from communicating freely about the situation, denies journalists and investigators meaningful access to the region, stages tours for those who do enter, and forcibly enlists members of the affected population to parrot its falsehoods.

The government’s descriptions of its actions are demonstrably false, its justifications are legally and morally untenable, and its attempted cover-up should fool no one. Muslims in Xinjiang are not free to practise their religion, they are persecuted because of it; nobody chose to go to an internment camp, they were arbitrarily detained; the camps were not designed to “educate” under any reasonable understanding of the term, they were designed to erase people’s cultural identities. Human rights violations of this nature are not legally permissible under any circumstance, and no reasonable assessment could consider them a proportionate response to the purported threat of terrorism. The government’s attempts to hide these truths have come straight from the propagandist’s playbook. Its staged tours and forced testimonies lack even an air of plausibility. They reveal nothing other than tremendous fear.

The Chinese authorities’ fabrications notwithstanding, the world now knows a significant amount about what has been occurring in Xinjiang. Credible documentary, testimonial, and photographic evidence has revealed certain inescapable facts: the human rights violations have been massive in scale, methodically carried out by government officials at all levels throughout Xinjiang, and directed at parts of the population not because of anything unlawful they did but rather because of who they are and because of their beliefs and their culture. This has been nothing less than a whole-of-government effort to trample on the human rights of predominantly Muslim ethnic groups: to persecute, to detain, and to torture. The government’s ongoing efforts to conceal its actions should cause the world to draw only adverse inferences about what else may have occurred and what else may still be occurring.

The government of China is responsible to prevent, stop, investigate, and punish any suspected serious violations of international human rights and to ensure reparations to victims. Given the government’s unwillingness to halt its own violations, let alone to conduct impartial and thorough investigations and prosecute those suspected to be criminally responsible, the international community has a duty to take steps to protect human rights, investigate the crimes, and ensure accountability.

It has been four years since the internment camps opened in Xinjiang and the international community has done little to help the affected population. The UN has failed to fulfil its responsibilities to the people of Xinjiang. There are a number of avenues by which “the UN” could take steps to hold China to account. UN member states could take concrete action to address the situation – to convene special sessions and launch robust investigations – through the Security Council, the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council. Not only have they failed to do so, but a significant number of states continue to use their platform at these forums to defend China’s human rights record in Xinjiang and beyond. The UN Secretariat – led by the Secretary-General, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – could also take action independently of decisions by UN member states, to conduct remote monitoring and publish the details of its findings to set the record straight, as it has done in other situations. So far, its public statements have been muted and it has done no public reporting.

The failure of the UN to take decisive action to address these egregious and well-documented human rights violations, and to hold China to account for its actions, is a stain on the institution’s reputation and a failure on many counts to fulfil clear mandates to address human rights situations of concern on their merits. By turning a blind eye to the suffering of millions of people in Xinjiang, the UN has effectively contributed to China’s efforts to discredit the survivors and activists who have spoken out at significant personal risk, and to dehumanize the affected population. The UN and its member states must urgently remedy this situation.

Amnesty International interviewed a Han Chinese man who travelled to Xinjiang after 2017. During his time there, he spoke with a Muslim friend who told him that what was happening to Muslims in Xinjiang was worse than what was being reported in the news. When this man asked his friend why he did not speak out about the situation, the friend replied: “Let’s survive first.” His silence was understandable. But unlike members of predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups living in Xinjiang, the rest of the world has no legitimate excuse not to speak out, to try to uncover the truth, to make every effort to end the violations, and to ensure accountability for the crimes. The people of Xinjiang deserve this, at the very least.

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Detainees walking through a narrow fenced enclosure – in essence a cage – to get from the building where their cells were to the building where their classrooms were.

Chapter 9

Recommendations

To the Government of China

  • Immediately release all persons held in internment camps or other detention facilities – including prisons – in Xinjiang, unless there is sufficient credible and admissible evidence that they have committed an internationally recognized offence, are transferred to recognized detention facilities, and are granted a fair trial in line with international standards.

  • Allow all those held to legally challenge their continued detention.

  • Provide the family members of people who are detained in camps, prisons, or other detention facilities – including those living abroad – with written reasons for their detention and other official documentation related to their family member’s case.

  • Close the “vocational training”, “transformation-through-education”, and “de-extremification” centres (that is, the internment camps) in Xinjiang.

  • Ensure that no person is subjected to arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, or torture or other ill-treatment.

  • Pending their release, ensure that all persons brought into or detained in these camps have prompt and regular access to a lawyer of their choice, to independent medical personnel, and to their families.

  • Ensure that everyone in Xinjiang is able to freely communicate with family members and others, including those living in other countries, unless specific restrictions on such communication can be justified under international human rights law.

  • Repeal or amend all laws and regulations, and end all related policies and practical measures, that impermissibly restrict the human rights of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, including the right to freely leave and return to China.

  • Allow everyone, including Muslims and members of all other religious or belief-based communities, to choose and keep their religion or beliefs, and to manifest these peacefully through worship, observance, practice, and teaching, both publicly and privately.

  • Ensure that any legal provisions aimed at protecting national security or created in the name of counter-terrorism are clearly and narrowly defined and conform to international human rights law and standards.

  • Conduct impartial, independent, prompt, effective, and transparent investigations of any person reasonably suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, or other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Ensure that alleged perpetrators are brought to justice through fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.

  • Immediately allow United Nations human rights experts, independent human rights investigators, and journalists unfettered access to all of Xinjiang, including to internment camps and prisons.

  • Fully and effectively cooperate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Procedures and any other UN-led investigation or other independent international human rights monitoring and investigative mechanisms.

  • Provide former detainees and the families of victims of crimes under international law and of other human rights violations full, effective, gender-sensitive, and transformative reparations in accordance with international law and standards.

  • Stop requesting that other countries return individuals to China, in violation of the non-refoulement principle.

  • Stop all types of harassment and intimidation against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups with ties to China living overseas.

To the UN Human Rights Council

  • Hold a special session or an urgent debate and adopt a resolution establishing an independent international mechanism to investigate crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations in Xinjiang, with a view to ensuring accountability, including through the identification of suspected perpetrators. The mechanism should:

  • have a mandate to closely monitor, analyse, report, and make recommendations to prevent human rights violations, and to collect, consolidate, preserve, and analyse evidence of crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations;

  • have a mandate to build cases to criminal law standards that can be used by future prosecutorial and judicial mechanisms that meet international standards of fairness and do not involve the death penalty;

  • be staffed with independent international experts, including on international human rights law, international criminal law, security force command structures, sexual and other gender-based violence, children’s rights, the rights of people with disabilities, video and image verification, and forensic analysis;

  • have sufficient resources, including financial and technical, to carry out its mandate; and

  • be requested to provide regular updates and a comprehensive report on the situation to the Human Rights Council and the UNGA and to brief the UNSC and other relevant parts of the UN.

To the UN Security Council

  • Hold regular, formal, open meetings on the situation in Xinjiang to allow relevant UN entities, as well as members of civil society and human rights defenders, to brief UNSC members directly on the latest situation in Xinjiang.

  • Adopt a resolution that sends an unambiguous message to the Chinese authorities condemning the situation and demanding the dismantling of the internment camp system and of all laws, regulations, and related policies and measures that impermissibly restrict the rights of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups. The resolution should demand immediate and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent human rights investigators.

To the UN General Assembly

  • If the UNSC fails to adopt a resolution, then adopt a comprehensive resolution on the human rights situation in Xinjiang that includes strong language condemning human rights violations in Xinjiang and that specifically calls for accountability for such violations.

  • Express support for a UN-led mechanism to investigate human rights violations in Xinjiang, to collect and preserve evidence, and to prepare cases for criminal prosecution. Pledge to provide financial, technical, and other support to that mechanism. If other organs of the UN fail to establish a mechanism, immediately act to create an investigative mechanism, as the General Assembly has done in the past.

To the UN Secretary-General

  • Send a clear and public message to the Chinese authorities that their actions and practices against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang are unlawful and must end immediately.

  • Ensure that all agencies and bodies of the UN, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, are fulfilling their mandate to monitor and report on the situation in China and feel empowered to speak out when necessary.

To the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

  • Conduct remote monitoring and assessment of the situation in Xinjiang and report publicly on the situation, in line with the independent mandate provided by General Assembly resolution 48/141, with concrete recommendations for next steps.

  • Brief the Human Rights Council on the situation as a matter of urgency, in line with HRC resolution 45/31, which clearly requested that the High Commissioner bring information concerning “patterns of human rights violations that point to a heightened risk of a human rights emergency… to the attention of the members and observers of the Human Rights Council in a manner that reflects the urgency of the situation… including through briefings.”

To the International Community as a Whole

  • Use all bilateral, multilateral, and regional platforms at your disposal, including those mandated by the UN, to urge the Chinese authorities to immediately end any crimes under international law and other human rights violations, to allow independent human rights investigators unrestricted access to Xinjiang, and to dismantle the system of discrimination and persecution of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

  • Allow all persons fleeing violence and persecution in Xinjiang to enter your country without delay or restrictions, and ensure they have prompt access to a fair and effective asylum process if desired, to legal counsel, to a thorough assessment of the risks of human rights violations they might face upon return, and to the ability to challenge any removal orders.

  • Strictly observe and apply the principle of non-refoulement to all persons, including refugees and asylum seekers, from Xinjiang. Cease all forced transfers, directly or indirectly, to China and guarantee that no one will be forced back to a situation where they face a real risk of serious human rights violations, including torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, the flagrant denial of fair trial rights, systematic discrimination, or persecution.

Demand the immediate release of everyone arbitrarily detained

“[Chinese authorities] are looking for any excuse to sentence you” — a detainee’s relative

Ethnic minorities living in Xinjiang have long faced discrimination and persecution. Lawful activities many of us take for granted can be considered a reason to be sent to an internment camp or a prison, where detainees are subjected to a relentless forced indoctrination campaign, physical and psychological torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

President Xi Jinping must immediately release all people arbitrarily detained in internment camps and in prisons in Xinjiang. Sign the petition now and share it with your friends, family, and contacts!

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