“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


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. [[[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. [[[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. [[[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. [[[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. [[[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. [[[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).