“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


Interrogations at police stations

The majority of former detainees Amnesty International interviewed were interrogated at police stations before being sent to a camp. [[[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. [[[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. [[[Amnesty International interviews.]]]

Many detainees were tortured or otherwise ill-treated during the interrogations in police stations before being transferred to the camps. [[[Amnesty International interviews.]]] Interrogations and torture were often carried out by members of the domestic security police, known as Guobao [[[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. [[[Amnesty International interviews.]]] Some detainees were hooded and shackled during interrogations. [[[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.” [[[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 [[[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. [[[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.” [[[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. [[[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” ]]]