“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


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. [[[Amnesty International interviews.]]] Some women detainees had their hair cut off after arriving, and some men had their heads and beards shaved. [[[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. [[[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. [[[Amnesty International interviews.]]]