Since spring of last year, Chinese authorities have detained tens of thousands of Muslims in its “re-education” camps — and now one former inmate is speaking out about the atrocities he experienced.
In a report Friday by The Associated Press, Omir Bekali of Kazakhstan detailed his eight-month-long stay as an inmate in one of the heavily guarded camps.
Among the abuses alleged by Bekali were prisoners were forced to eat pork and drink alcohol — two substances from which Muslims abstain.
Other forms of alleged mistreatment included forcing the prisoners to denounce their beliefs while praising the Communist Party.
“The psychological pressure is enormous, when you have to criticize yourself, denounce your thinking — your own ethnic group,” Bekali said. “I still think about it every night, until the sun rises. I can’t sleep. The thoughts are with me all the time.”
Bekali himself initially refused to follow certain orders within the camp and was forced to stand at a wall for five hours at a time.
Soon after, he was sent to solitary confinement where he was deprived of food for up to 24 hours. After 20 days in the camp, he considered suicide.
Bekali also claimed to have been detained without any form of trial or access to a lawyer.
The estimates of how many are locked away in these types of Chinese prisons is over a million, with a U.S. commission calling it the “largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”
One historian said China is engaging in a “cultural cleansing.”
“Cultural cleansing is Beijing’s attempt to find a final solution to the Xinjiang problem,” said James Millward, a China historian at Georgetown University.
When asked why non-Chinese individuals had been detained, the Chinese foreign ministry merely said it “had not heard” of the situation and added that it upheld the rights of foreigners, but that they need to be “law-abiding.”
The campaign to detain certain individuals such as Muslims has intensified across Xinjiang, which is a territory nearly half the size of India and home to numerous ethnic minority groups, including the Turkic Uighur people.
Though officials from the Chinese government have largely avoided any comment on the re-education camps, some have been quoted as suggesting that, in order to fight Islamic extremism and separatism, some ideological changes are needed.
According to the BBC, the region had had intermittent autonomy, but came under Chinese rule in the 18th century and eventually became part of Communist China. Coincident with the collapse of the Soviet Union, by 1990 open support for separatism increased along with the emergence of independent Muslim regions throughout Central Asia.
Chinese officials claim that the growing radicalism of the Muslim Uighurs has killed hundreds of individuals over the past few years and that the Communist regime considers the minority population a “threat to peace” to the majority Han Chinese.
Professor Rian Thum at Loyola University in New Orleans believes China’s re-education system echoes the many human rights violations found throughout history — namely the torturous practices used by regimes such as the Soviet Union.
“The closest analogue is maybe the Cultural Revolution in that this will leave long-term, psychological effects,” Thum said. “This will create a multigenerational trauma from which many people will never recover.”
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