Two women who survived a Chinese “re-education” camp for Uyghurs provided harrowing accounts of torture, gang rapes and brainwashing during their testimonies before a special U.S. House of Representatives committee on China. Gulbahar Haitiwaji, a former concentration camp prisoner was one of several witnesses who testified before the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party. The panel focused on the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group in the far-western province of Xinjiang. The United States has accused China of genocide for imprisoning over 1 million Uyghur and other ethnic minority Muslims in concentration camps since 2107. The hearing also featured testimony from Qelbinur Sidik, a member of China’s ethnic Uzbek minority who was forced to teach Mandarin in one of China’s internment camps.
Both have since fled Communist China and now reside in Europe. During her testimony, Haitiwaji spoke through a translator. She recalled that prisoners caught speaking in their native Uyghur language, which was forbidden, would be locked in a contraption known as a “tiger chair” for up to 72 hours. The metal seat prevented occupants from moving, and prisoners could not leave the chair until they agreed never to speak Uyghur again. The survivor also recounted how in April 2017, all female detainees were chained to a bed, with Haitiwaji testifying that she was chained to a bed for 20 days. Prisoners were also forced to study Chinese history and law daily for 11 hours. “There are cameras all over the camp,” Haitiwaji said through the translator. “Our every move was monitored.” Sidik, also speaking through a translator, was sent to a re-education camp in March 2017. She recalled how prisoners at the camp wore gray and had their heads shaved.
She remembered hearing “horrible screaming sounds” from interrogation rooms where prisoners were tortured. According to Sidik, Chinese prison guards used four types of torture: “electric baton, electric helmet, electric glove and a tiger chair.” Women were also subject to gang rape, additionally, the survivor said that female prisoners, usually between the ages of 18 and 40, were injected with an unknown medicine every week. Women were forced to take medicine had their periods stopped, and some even stopped being able to breastfeed. Sidik said she was sterilized in May 2019. Experts on the panel consisted of Adrian Zenz, senior fellow and director of China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, and Nury Turkel, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Naomi Kikoler, director of the Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, also testified before the committee.
Zenz said that China’s genocide of the Uyghur population is motivated by “paranoia” due to “an exaggerated threat perception that genocide scholars have linked to all major atrocities in the past 100 years.” Turkel stressed that genocide is “an international crime for a reason,” arguing that confronting it is not optional. “Crimes against humanity cannot be treated merely as an area of disengagement or disagreement, or an irritant in a bilateral relationship,” he said. “This is truly more than a competition. It is a battle for the world, and our children will inherit it.” In terms of how the U.S. should act, Kikoler advised that the country should not act alone but should work with allies to confront China’s human rights abuses. “The United States alone cannot prevent these crimes,” Kikoler insisted. “We must work with other governments, Uyghur civil society and the private sector to develop a coordinated global strategy to protect the Uyghur community.
Another Uyghur woman, Tursunay Ziyawudun, recounted her experiences in a Chinese concentration camp. Ziyawudun, who was taken to a camp twice, described how she and other female prisoners were gang raped by the guards. The Uyghur woman stated that detainees at the camp “always lived in fear.” “I was taken into a camp for the second time in March 2018 and stayed there for close to one year. There were many new buildings in the camp, which looked similar to a prison, and many cameras and people inside. We could always see armed police officers. Sometimes they showed us propaganda films, sometimes they taught us Chinese law, sometimes they taught us Chinese ‘red’ songs, and sometimes they made us swear oaths of loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party.” According to one report over 1 million people have been detained in camps since 2017. The detainees mainly consist of Uyghurs.
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