A new research report from Radio Free Asia (RFA) details the experiences of Uyghur detention camp survivors and other detainees from China’s Far West. The qualitative study, Experiences of Uyghur Detention in Post-2015 Xinjiang, provides first-hand accounts focusing on the extrajudicial process Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are subjected to, including the tenuous grounds authorities cite for detention, quotas and financial incentives for arrests and confessions, the classification of individuals by perceived risk categories, and harsh treatment inside the facilities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
“In conducting this research, we tried to understand how the harrowing details of detainee experiences fit into China’s larger system of political and cultural control in Xinjiang,” said Betsy Henderson, RFA’s Chief Strategy Officer and the head of the organization’s Research Department. “Throughout the process we prioritized the safety and mental and physical health of the interviewees, aiming always to ensure our report reflects their full humanity, not just the dehumanizing experiences that continue to haunt them. ”
“RFA’s groundbreaking journalism has shown time and again the extent to which Uyghurs are subjected en masse to China’s indiscriminate extralegal detention, with the clear aim of cultural destruction,” RFA President Bay Fang said. “This report bears critical witness to the eye-opening details of this human rights crisis, as revealed through the personal accounts of individuals.”
The extensive interviews forming the substance of this report — a project of RFA’s research division — were conducted securely between November 2019 and May 2020 in Turkey and Europe with seven ethnic Uyghur ex-detainees and one ethnic Uzbek. The accounts offered by the study’s detention survivors supplement other firsthand accounts that have emerged, as well as the leaked documents and cables detailing the Chinese Communist Party’s far-reaching high-tech surveillance and directives to crack down on the Uyghur population and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR. Key findings include:
A blurring between pre-trial detention facilities and re-education camps, including repurposed or makeshift conversions of existing facilities into ones for detention.
Accounts of flimsy to nonexistent grounds for arrests and detentions, including innocuous religious signifiers and contact or connection, close or passing, to individuals rated high-risk.
Confessions forced under extreme duress, including violence or deprivation, and threats of violence to family members.
Arrest quotas and financial incentives openly discussed by authorities, witnessed firsthand by two of the eight participants in this study.
No opportunities to share information among detainees, with incriminating conversations likely to lead to maltreatment or torture.
Medical neglect as well as enforced medical interventions, including lack of doctors on-site, weekly blood samples in many camps, and mandatory unidentified injections and pills.
The report builds on past work from RFA’s research team, including a 2018 quantitative survey that focused on the experiences and media consumption habits of Uyghurs in Turkey who had left the Uyghur region. Journalists in RFA’s Uyghur Service were among the first to sound the alarm as China moved in recent years to detain more than 1 million members of Muslim minorities in the XUAR. First exposing the mass internment of Uyghurs in 2017, the service has meticulously documented related developments such as the transfer of prisoners to other regions of China, the construction of orphanages for the children of detained Uyghurs, and the destruction of cultural and sacred locations including, historic city centers, mosques and gravesites.
Washington, D.C. — Radio Free Asia is a private, nonprofit corporation broadcasting and publishing online news, information, and commentary in 9 East Asian languages to listeners who do not have access to full and free news media. RFA’s broadcasts seek to promote the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, including the freedom to “seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” RFA is funded by an annual grant from USAGM.
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