Three Uighurs who fled from China to Turkey have described forced abortions and torture by Chinese authorities in China’s western Xinjiang region.
The three witnesses include a woman who said she was forced into an abortion, a former doctor who spoke of draconian birth control policies, and a former detainee who alleged he was “tortured day and night” by Chinese soldiers while imprisoned in the remote border region.
They spoke to The Associated Press of their ordeals before testifying to an independent tribunal in London that is investigating if Beijing’s actions amount to genocide.
The tribunal, which does not have U.K. government backing, will be chaired by human rights lawyer Geoffrey Nice, who has worked with the International Criminal Court.
While the tribunal’s judgment is not binding on any government, organizers hope the process of publicly laying out evidence will compel international action to address growing concerns about alleged abuses against the Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group.
One witness, Bumeryem Rozi, said authorities in Xinjiang rounded her up along with other pregnant women to abort her fifth child in 2007. She said she complied because she feared that otherwise authorities would have confiscated her home and belongings and endangered her family.
“I was 6 1/2 months pregnant … The police came, one Uighur and two Chinese. They put me and eight other pregnant women in cars and took us to the hospital,” Rozi, 55, told the AP from her home in Istanbul.
“They first gave me a pill and said to take it. So I did. I didn’t know what it was,” she continued. “Half an hour later, they put a needle in my belly. And sometime after that I lost my child.”
Semsinur Gafur, a former obstetrician-gynecologist who worked in a village hospital in Xinjiang in the 1990s, said she and other physicians used to go from house to house with a mobile ultrasound machine to check if anyone was pregnant.
“If a household had more births than allowed, they would raze the home … They would flatten the house, destroy it,” Gafur said. “This was my life there. It was very distressing.”
A third Uighur exile, Mahmut Tevekkul, said he was imprisoned and tortured in 2010 by Chinese authorities who interrogated him for information about one of his brothers. Tevekkul said the brother was wanted partly because he published a religious book in Arabic.
Tevekkul described being beaten and punched in the face during questioning.
“They put us on a tiled floor, shackled our hands and feet and tied us to a pipe, like a gas pipe. There were six soldiers guarding us. They interrogated us until the morning and then they took us to the maximum-security area of the prison,” he said.
An estimated 1 million people or more — most of them Uighurs — have been confined in so-called re-education camps in Xinjiang in recent years, according to researchers.
Beijing has rejected the allegations. Officials have characterized the camps, which they say are now closed, as vocational training centers to teach the Chinese language, job skills and the law to support economic development and combat extremism.
The hearings’ organizers said Chinese authorities have ignored requests to participate in the proceedings. The Chinese embassy in London did not respond to requests for comment, but officials in China have said the tribunal is set up by “anti-China forces” to spread lies.
“There is no such thing as genocide or forced labor in Xinjiang,” the region’s government spokesperson Elijan Anayat told reporters on Thursday. “If the tribunal insists on going its own way, we would like to express our severe condemnation and opposition and will be forced to take countermeasures.”
In April, Britain’s parliament followed those in Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada in declaring that Beijing’s policies against the Uighurs amount to genocide and crimes against humanity. The U.S. government has also done the same.
Nice, the lawyer leading the tribunal, was one of nine British citizens sanctioned by China in March for spreading “lies and disinformation” about the country. The move came after the U.K. and other Western governments took similar measures against China over its treatment of the Uighurs.
The lawyer said he isn’t intimidated, but admitted that the sanctions have resulted in some participants withdrawing from the tribunal. Organizers also said they had to increase the event’s security after about 500 of the hearings’ free tickets were booked up by people with fake email addresses.
While her fellow exiles said they agreed to testify to seek justice, Rozi, the woman who reported the forced abortion, says she is motivated to speak out for a more personal reason.
Her youngest son has been detained since 2015, when he was just 13, and she hopes the tribunal’s work will help lead to his freedom.
“I want my son to be freed as soon as possible,” she said. “I want to see him be set free.”
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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