Desperate cries haunt the international community as the Uighur population plea for aid against alleged human rights abuses in China. “We just need hope”, Jevlan Shirmemmet, whose mother has been arrested for “supporting terrorism”, tells Sky News. “My mother… our family members [are] now in hell. Not in prison… [it] is hell”.
China has been accused of detaining much of the Uighur population in its borders, with reports of forced sterilisation and wider persecution plaguing the Xinjiang region. It is believed much of these human rights abuses are being carried out in concentration camps across the northwest province. Gulbahar Jalilova, who spent over a year in a crowded underground prison cell, speaks of detainment alongside forty other women. She describes torture in disturbing levels of detail and highlights the use of a “tiger chair”. “They put five kilos of chains on me and I was interrogated for 24 hours… my legs were tied with this chain and my feet got swollen. The chair was made of metal and it was squeezing me.” Jalilova was forced to spend seventeen hours a day chained up and describes horrific treatment including being forced tablets to stop periods and facing injections of various unknown substances. She left the prison covered in hives and red rashes.
The Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom, Liu Xiaoming, described allegations of abuse as “false”, claiming the Muslim group receive the same treatment as any other ethnicity in his country. However, shocking drone footage, verified by Australian security services, emerged this month of prisoners being blindfolded and led to trains. Xiaoming claimed he “did not know” what the footage was depicting and said: “sometimes you have a transfer of prisoners, in any country”.
The Uighurs have faced detainment after frequent bouts of separatist violence in the Xinjiang province. Initially the Chinese government denied the existence of what it calls “re-education camps”, before claiming they were necessary for counterterrorism. The UN has launched an investigation into reports of forced sterilisation of women in attempts to limit the growth of the Uighur population. It is believed over a million people have been detained.
The United Kingdom has responded to reports by accusing China of ‘gross’ human rights abuses. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described the situation as “reminiscent of something not seen for a long time”. Xiaoming responded to the UK’s statement by claiming “there is no such thing as concentration camps in Xinjiang. There’s a lot of fake accusations against China”. In a disturbing report published by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, it was found, between 2013 and 2018, the rate of population growth in Xinjiang’s two largest Uighur prefectures fell by more than 80%. China denies these figures and claims the population has in fact grown from four to five million to 11 million in the last 40 years. Xiaoming said: “people say we have ethnic cleansing, but the population has doubled”. However, Chinese demographic research does not feature data as far back as 40 years ago.
Outrage has spread throughout the international community as many call for heavy repercussions on China. A petition, signed by over a 1000 people in the UK, has demanded sanctions on Beijing and will now be considered by the UK parliament. It is unclear as to what the future holds for the Uighur population and how the rest of the world will react to these reports. However, it is clear various violations against human rights are being carried out by the Chinese government. Whilst relatives of missing people beg for the return of their loved ones, many now live in fear of a similar fate at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party. As Beijing continues to deny such accusations, further evidence emerges of horrific violence and torture. Many are now seeking justice and answers in a crisis bearing striking similarities to ethnic abuses throughout history.