“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


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. [[[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. [[[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. [[[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. [[[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.