CW: Sexual violence, rape, and torture.
First-hand accounts from people that have spent time inside the network of Xinjiang internment camps are hard to come by. But recently Tursunay Ziawudun, who spent nine months inside one of these “re-education” centres, gave a revealing interview to the BBC. She reported that women were taken from their cells “every night” to be raped and sexually tortured by masked Chinese men. And that she herself was gang-raped on three different occasions. Ziawudun was able to flee to Kazakhstan before eventually seeking refuge in the U.S., where she now lives. Her reports of sexual abuse corroborate others from people who either experienced, or witnessed, this level of torture in the camps.
It is obviously difficult to verify Ziawudun’s accounts, but it should be noted that travel documents and immigration records she provided align with her version of events; that her depiction of daily life inside closely resembles others; and that her description of the camp’s physical configuration matches satellite imagery analyzed by the BBC. Adrian Zenz, a German anthropologist known for his studies of the Xinjiang internment camps, called Ziawudun’s testimony “some of the most horrendous evidence I have seen since the atrocity began.” “This confirms the very worst of what we have heard before,” he added. “It provides authoritative and detailed evidence of sexual abuse and torture at a level clearly greater than what we had assumed.”
A Kazakh woman, Gulzira Auelkhan, was detained and forced to spend 18 months inside one of the camps. She was also forced, however, to take on a particular duty, that she would later go on to describe in another interview with the BBC: “My job was to remove [the women’s] clothes above the waist and handcuff them so they cannot move. Then I would leave the women in the room and a man would enter – some Chinese man from outside or policeman. I sat silently next to the door, and when the man left the room I took the woman for a shower.” Her summary of this experience corresponds with other testimonies, which claim the guards used coercive measures to make detainees assist them, and to- perhaps- do the dirty work for them.
Qelbinur Sedik, an Uzbek woman from Xinjiang, has testified to the Uyghur Human Rights Project about the quiet nightmarish forms of torture the Uyghur women are made to endure. Sedik was one of many Chinese language teachers brought in to help with the ‘re-education’ process. She detailed that there were “four kinds of electric shock- the chair, the glove, the helmet, and anal rape with a stick.” She also recounted that “the screams echoed throughout the building”, and that “I could hear them during lunch and sometimes when I was in class.” Tursunay Ziawudan told the BBC a similar story, about such a weapon being used on her: “They had an electric stick, I didn’t know what it was, and it was pushed inside my genital tract, torturing me with an electric shock.”
Ziawudun, 42, is Uighur, a mostly Muslim Turkic minority group. There are up to 11 million Uighurs in Xinjiang in north-western China. But that number is set to decline rapidly, thanks to another of the camps’ measures: sterilization. According to the Associated Press, and now Ziawudun, women inside have been forcibly fitted with IUDs or sterilized. When in 2018 it became a criminal offence for Uighurs to exhibit many of their religious expressions, such as the wearing of a long dress- which Ziawudun says she was shouted at for, upon arrival at her camp- it was a sign of things to come. But it seems these things have now evolved into genocide.
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