“You are the beasts”: Accounts of dehumanisation at the Uyghur Tribunal

As the Uyghur Tribunal reconvened for its third day of hearings, the panel heard evidence from a range of witnesses, about the nature of the PRC’s so-called ‘re-education’ camps and detention facilities. A common thread emerged amid the testimony from detention camp survivors, about the long-term effects of their suffering, and the terror that they still feel when returning to these memories.

Baqitali Nur, who was imprisoned without cause in one of these detention facilities, gave evidence about the ordeal he experienced. He recalls being chained to the walls of his cell, which had doors so low that the detainees had to bend down to walk in. The 3x3m cells were overcrowded, sometimes containing up to 40 inmates. There was not enough room to sleep, and those inside were made to sit without movement for between ten and fifteen hours every day.

Mr Nur shared details of a particularly terrifying experience, in which his cellmate was taken away in the night, and did not return for four days. Upon his return, he was paralysed from receiving such severe beatings. Mr Nur was asked by the warden of the camp to help feed his cellmate, as well as accompany him to the bathroom (the one location in the camp where the detainees were able to sneak a moment to talk, due to the lack of cameras, which they were only allowed to visit once per day), caring for a friend who was now a shell of the person he had once been. A number of detainees suffered permanent disabilities as a result of torture, and one friend of Mr Nur even became completely blind. Mr Nur emphasised that lasting health problems are a common consequence of such imprisonment:

“I did not see anybody who did not develop a sickness after spending some time in the detention camp”

Mr Nur broke down when sharing the horrific methods of torture he personally endured during his time in the camp, including spending 24 hours in the ‘tiger-chair’, and being hung from the ceiling, stretched so severely that his feet would touch the floor when they previously could not. Mr Nur explained that the people he shared his cell with constantly changed: another indication of the PRC’s dehumanising view about the Uyghur people as disposable. He recalled the harrowing words he heard from one of the camp guards:

“You are beasts. You will spend the rest of your life like this”

The Tribunal has been made aware of various methods of monitoring Uyghur detainees, but evidence from Conor Healy, Government Director at IPVM (the world's leading video surveillance information source), shed light on the PRC’s systematic production of surveillance and torture.

Mr Healy gave details of the PRC’s surveillance systems tailored to recognising ethnic minorities, purpose-built to recognise a Uyghur, and send an alert with information directly to the police: some sources have suggested that Uyghur recognition abilities were specifically requested before development He reiterated the alarming fact that many major Chinese technology firms are involved in developing and producing this exact kind of software.

Mr Healy expressed his concern that no-one should ever have been able to develop such technology:

"There is no surveillance system as extensive and advanced as China”

In similar sentiments, Geoffrey Cain, journalist and author of 'The Perfect Police State', shared his thoughts on the marked differences between prison camps in North Korea, and detainment facilities in China. Where sites in North Korea felt very much like a picture of the past, Mr Cain confessed that observing the camps in Xinjiang felt like looking into the future.

Similarly heartbreaking testimony was heard from Orynbek Koksebek, who was imprisoned for 165 days in a Xinjiang detention camp. He described the humiliating ways he was treated, including being forced into a well-like hole for seven days: his hands were cuffed, and he was repeatedly doused with freezing cold water. He was also injected with an unknown substance, and, to this day, has no idea what it was.

Mr Koksebek expressed his anger at the lack of reasoning or justification for his imprisonment, other than the fact that he did not speak Chinese, as a citizen of Kazakhstan. He recalls being interrogated a total of 27 times, and was treated particularly badly, simply because of this linguistic difference.

The room was stunned into silence when Mr Koksebek confessed that he attempted to take his own life when imprisoned in the camp, after being told he would be there for five years. He still suffers deeply-rooted mental health problems as a result:

“I am suffering from depression. Every time I recall my experiences, I just cry”

Mr Koksebek still receives pressure from the Chinese government, to return to Xinjiang and cooperate with their policies, making some of his friends and family scared to even speak to him, for fear of retaliation from the PRC. He confessed fear for his future, unknowing as to whether he will be re-imprisoned or even killed. He was told by the deputy head of the camp he spent time in that the PRC’s ultimate goals are for all people to speak Chinese, and for China to “conquer the world”.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of hearing such testimony is the strength that many Uyghur survivors retain. Mr Koksebek stated his remaining resilience and refusal to give up hope:

“That will not happen. They will never be able to conquer people like me”

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica Limited as a company.

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