Inside China’s “re-education” Camps The unseen defilement of the Uyghur

Throughout Xinjiang, there are large, sprawling compounds, made secure with thick concrete walls, lined with glinting barbed wire and dotted with vigilant surveillance cameras. Tall watchtowers loom over the building, providing an eagle-eye view of the entire compound. Police officers patrolling the perimeter can be clearly spotted by anyone that cares to look. These ironclad facilities are China’s “re-education” camps.

These “re-education” camps are labelled as “vocational training centres”, places designed to weed out extremism and provide people with a range of innovative, new skills. The Chinese government claims that people attend these establishments on a voluntary basis to battle extremism in their communities. The Uyghur people residing in these camps are those who were identified as having a potential to commit crime. They were given the choice – if you could call it that – between receiving and education in these “vocational” facilities or having a judicial hearing. It should come as no surprise that most people chose the government’s educational route.

China would have you believe their camps in Xinjiang are a place of progression and peaceful reform. That their facilities are pristine, fostering an educational environment filled with culture, learning and bright, dedicated students. But the truth is far more horrifying. These are not “vocational training centres”, these are concentration camps.

China’s persecution and detainment of the Uyghur people has been silent for much too long. It’s time people have a real look inside these “re-education” camps. It’s time to look through the poor façade of a peaceful boarding school and see those high, barbwire walls and watchtowers for what they really are.

What’s really happening within Xinjiang’s concentration camps

At least one million Uyghurs, as well as other Muslims and ethnic minorities, have been forcefully detained in Xinjiang. Their rights have been stripped away, with their dignity following close behind. China is cracking down on Islam, using a strong hand to force Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the region to assimilate through their “re-education” camps.

Former detainees have shared their experiences with these “re-education” camps, and they are far more disturbing than the issued propaganda would have you believe. Stories of torture, forced medical experiments and rape are coming to light, and the atrocities don’t end there. The Uyghur people are being physically and psychologically tortured in Xinjiang and being stripped of their religion freedom, all in the name of diplomacy. These “vocational training centres” have been designed to annihilate the Uyghur’s religious constitution, forcing Muslims detainees to drink alcohol, eat pork products and prevent them from having any ties to Islam whatsoever.

Former detainee, Orynbek Koksybek, shared his experience at one of these “re-education” camps with the BBC, saying, ” I spent seven days of hell there…My hands were handcuffed, my legs were tied. They threw me in a pit. I raised both my hands and looked above. At that moment, they poured water. I screamed. I don’t remember what happened next. I don’t know how long I was in the pit but it was winter and very cold. They said I was a traitor…”

Orynbek was later moved to another area and was taught Mandarin Chinese, as well as songs about China and the Communist Party. People at the facility told him that if he could learn to speak 3,000 words in Chinese then he would be released.



The Black Room

Orynbek’s story is just the tip of the iceberg, many others have come forward with personal accounts of torture or stories of loved ones being taken away to “re-education” camps in the dead of night. One such account comes from 43-year-old, Sayragul Sauytbay, a Chinese Muslim detained in 2017 to teach at a “re-education” camp in Xinjiang.

Sayragul was taken to one of these camps by four armed guards, with a black sack placed over her head. Once at the facility, she was informed that she would be teaching Chinese to the inmates and despite not wanting to agree, she was forced to sign a document that laid out her duties and the rules of the camp. She told Haaretz, “It said there that if I did not fulfil my task, or if I did not obey the rules, I would get the death penalty. The document stated that it was forbidden to speak with the prisoners, forbidden to laugh, forbidden to cry and forbidden to answer questions from anyone. I signed because I had no choice.”

While at the camp, Sayragul witnessed numerous atrocities, but was helpless to do anything about it. Prisoners were kept on a strict routine; wake up at 6AM, eat a meagre breakfast, learn Chinese language, propaganda songs and Chinese slogans – such as “I love China”, “Thank you to the Communist Party” and “I am Chinese” -, confess to their sins between 4 and 6PM, eat, think about their crimes and write them down, before going to bed at 12AM. Sayragul said that during this routine, “Their hands and feet were shackled all day, except when they had to write. Even in sleep they were shackled, and they were required to sleep on their right side – anyone who turned over was punished.”

Punishment took place publicly on a daily basis, but the worst of it would happen in the black room. The black room was a special room designed specifically for torture in the camp, named due to the fact that it was forbidden to speak about it. “There were all kinds of tortures there. Some prisoners were hung on the wall and beaten with electrified truncheons. There were prisoners who were made to sit on a chair of nails. I saw people return from that room covered in blood. Some came back without fingernails,” said Sayragul.

She also witnessed the rape and violent sexual assault of a women in her class by multiple officers. When speaking about the event, pain and sadness were etched in her features, “It was awful. I will never forget the feeling of helplessness, of not being able to help her. After that happened, it was hard for me to sleep at night.” This poor young woman and so many others like her face horrors like this each day they are interned in these camps, and if anyone speaks up against it or shows their displeasure, they are quickly and severely punished. Sayragul recalls that, “…they checked to see how we were reacting. People who turned their head or closed their eyes, and those who looked angry or shocked, were taken away and we never saw them again.”

Sayragul was released from the camp after several months, but continued to be interrogated by the police for treason. She was told that she would be detained in the very camp she was once teaching at for crimes against China and in that moment, she knew she needed to get out of the country. She said, “Having already been in a camp, I knew what it meant. I knew I would die there, and I could not accept that.”

Sayragul Sauytbay fled from China and was granted asylum in Sweden. She is one of the lucky few that were able to escape from the persecution happening in Xinjiang. Her story, as well as other’s, gives the world a glimpse at the what really goes on inside these “re-education” camps. What happens within the walls of these camps is not an education. What happens within the walls of these camps are crimes against humanity. These are not voluntary “re-education” camps. These are internment camps and they need to be shut down.

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