It is the largest mass confinement of ethnic minorities since World War II. Possibly over a million Uyghurs, Kazaks and other Muslim minorities are trapped in penal camps and detention centres in Chinas Xinjiang region. Testimonials shed new light on a regime that would use abortions, sterilizations and intrauterine devices to tame Uyghur population growth.
“ When will they take my children, when will a bomb go off?” Shehide hasnt processed the trauma yet. The Uyghur fled the region more than ten years ago because it no longer felt safe there after a period of unrest. “The fear is no longer there, but I havent slept peacefully for a day.” Through Malaysia and Turkey she manages to reach the Netherlands together with her two children. She works here now as a cleaning lady.
DecceIt spoke to Shehide, who is portrayed in this unrecognizable, about what she experienced in Xinjiang:
Shehide couldnt say goodbye to her family. “I couldnt say anything to anyone, but found out that my work had posted an advertisement that I had to appear right back at work. Thats how my family found out I was gone.”
If she decides to have a third child in the Netherlands, she comes to a shocking conclusion. “I couldnt get pregnant anymore.” The doctor at the hospital told her she was sterilized. “It was only then that I found out that after my cesarean section in the hospital in Ürümqi, they must have made me infertile.”
According to Adrian Zenz, the story of Shehide is not on its own. Its not easy to check, but its in line with what other witnesses have stated. Zenz collects evidence from Xinjiang for research institute Victims of Communism. According to him, hundreds of thousands of women have been victims of practices designed to limit births among Uyghurs, especially after 2017. He relies on public government documents.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs described stories of forced sterilization as “sounding nonsense”. But Zenz says via Skype: “Two Uyghur places had the goal of doing more sterilizations in one year on average than China as a whole in twenty years.”
“If only I was dead.”
For people who have too many children, incarceration in camps threatens. Eysa, a fled Uyghur who often ended up in a camp for travelling abroad, talks about how he witnessed when a fellow prisoner was tortured. “Because he had too many children. Four to be exact. He has said several times, if only I were dead.”
Under the guise of re-education, Uyghurs are locked up in the camps. But many of the people who end up there have already received good education, says Patrick Poon of Amnesty International. “There is therefore no reason to lock these people in vocational training camps.”
The camps and high-security detention centres in Ürümqi are still being expanded. Inside the high prison walls of a detention centre in the north of the city is being built. Factories are also being erected.
“ But it is more than just the imprisonment of a million Uyghurs in the internment camps,” says Zenz. Between 2015 and 2018, the number of births in Xinjiangs largest two regions plummeted by no less than 84 percent.
Zenz quotes testimonies of women who claim to have been picked up by paramilitary forces at the same time. “In clinics, an operation was waiting to make them infertile.” Shehide, who once worked for the registry office, claims to have never witnessed abortions. “But I know about a woman in the neighborhood who was six months pregnant. She went to the doctor with a huge belly, but came back with nothing.”
For people in the region, talking to foreign journalists is very dangerous. The testimonies come from Uyghurs who have fled the land. “Informants in the districts are watching women to see who is pregnant,” says one of them. “In that case, youll be sent to a clinic.”
Many Uyghur women complain of irregular menstruation and physical complaints, he tells, side effects of the intrauterine device. Beijing maintains the assertion that the Uyghur birth ratios are considerably higher than those of Han Chinese, but compares different periods for convenience.
“ In recent decades, Uyghurs have indeed had more children, but in recent years, a state-funded scheme of birth prevention has been adopted,” says Zenz. He quotes a Uyghur prefecture that has reduced the birth target to almost zero. “Systematic suppression of births, aimed at a specific group: it is impossible toconclude that this does not meet any of the definitions of genocide,” says Zenz.
The breaking of the Uighur population in Xinjiang is accompanied by the separation of parents and children. Zenz shared Excel documents with DeccEit that read how Uyghur children are raised at boarding schools. Of the 85 children from the village of Azhatibage, near Kashgar, one or both parents were in detention. In eight more cases, parents underwent so-called re-education.
Based on the documents from local authorities, Zenz estimates the number of Uyghur children at boarding schools at around 880,000 in 2019, more than twice as much as in the previous year. According to him, boarding schools must ensure that the children speak Chinese instead of Uyghur, and that they embrace the ideology of the Communist Party instead of their own traditions. “We do not kill the Uyghurs, but try to break them,” he concludes.