By Gunda Pavilonytė, BA Chinese
Content warning: racial and sexual violence
A Chinese whistleblower exposes guards and police officers tactics used in President Xinjiang’s re-education camps.
For years, stories of arbitrary arrest, unspeakable cruelty, and mass internment camps have been surfacing surrounding Xinjiang. The province is in the far western region of China and mainly inhabited by Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority.
There have been numerous testimonies of ex-detainees describing the experiences in the detention camps. However, for the first time a former Chinese police officer has come forward with a story.
The defector, who asked to be identified as Jiang in order to protect his family members who remain in China, has spoken about his involvement in the detention camps in extracting confessions. According to him, officials treated Xinjiang like a war zone, with police officers saying that Uyghurs were enemies of the state. Jiang said that if he had resisted the process he would have been arrested too.
If civilians resisted the arrest, the police officers would ‘hold the gun against (their) head’
When recalling the routine overnight operations, he explained that they would be given lists with names of people to arrest and were instructed to meet official quotas on the numbers of Uyghurs to detain. If civilians resisted the arrest, the police officers would ‘hold the gun against (their) head. If you move, you will be killed.’ He also described how teams of police officers would search people’s houses and download the data from their computers and phones.
Another tactic was to use the area’s neighborhood committee to call the local population together for a meeting with the village chief before detaining them en masse. ‘It’s all planned,’ Jiang said. ‘Everyone needs to hit a target.’
He has also revealed how detainees that had travelled to other parts of China were transported back to Xinjiang in their hundreds in packed freight trains: ‘We gather them together, put hoods on their head, two people handcuffed together, to prevent them from escaping,’ he told Sky News.
‘During the train transportation we do not give them food,’ Jiang recalled. ‘They are only allowed bottle caps to drink water – to moisten their lips. To keep order, we don’t let them go to the toilet.’
In the detention centre prisoners including women and even children as young as 14 years old were being hung from the ceiling and tortured during the interrogation process. Jiang described how during his duty he was ordered to beat, sexually assault and electrocute detainees. Waterboarding was also used as a way to force confessions of terrorist acts.
Shockingly, one ‘very common measure’ of torture and dehumanization was for guards to order prisoners to rape and abuse the new male inmates.
‘Everyone uses different methods. Some even use a wrecking bar, or iron chains with locks,’ Jiang said. ‘Police would step on the suspect’s face and tell him to confess.’ These suspects were accused of terror offenses, but he believes that ‘none’ of the hundreds of prisoners he was involved in arresting had committed a crime: ‘They are ordinary people.’
When asked what he would do if faced any of his former victims, Jiang replied that he would be ‘scared’ and would ‘leave immediately.’ He continued, ‘even if you’re just a soldier, you’re still responsible for what happened. You need to execute orders, but so many people did this thing together. We’re responsible for this.’
China repietedly denies reports of any human rights abuses, stating that ‘the so-called genocide in Xinjiang is nothing but a rumor backed by ulterior motives and outright lies,’ as said by Zhao Lijian, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman. They assure that the camps are vocational, seeking to combat separatism and terrorism in the country.
It is estimated that up to 2 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been detained in Xinjiang’s internment camps since 2017.
Photo caption: Chinese President Xi Jinping (Photo Credit: Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo).