Uyghur women interned in China’s “re-education” camps are subjected to systemic rape by Chinese soldiers, a former camp detainee told the BBC.
The detainee, Tursunay Ziawudun, is an ethnic Uyghur woman who lived in the province of Xinjiang in China’s northwest. She was twice detained in Xinjiang before arriving in the United States in September.
Ziawudun and her husband, who is from Kazakhstan, returned to China in 2016 after a stay in neighboring Kazakhstan. After her return to Xinjiang, she was detained for one month, but in 2018 she was told she needed “more education” and was sent to a detention camp.
There, she said, she was beaten to the point of requiring a hysterectomy, sexually assaulted with an electric shock device, and repeatedly raped by Chinese men. Ziawudun also said she was bitten repeatedly during her sexual assaults in the camp.
Ziawudun was released from the camp in December, 2018. Her husband remains in Kazakhstan.
According to independent reports, China operates a network of around 1,300 camps in Xinjiang, where up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities have been imprisoned. Detainees have reportedly been subject to indoctrination, forced labor, beatings, torture, starvation, and forced sterilizations.
Ziawudun’s account to the BBC was supported by two women who were forced to teach at the camps. The Chinese government describes the camps as preventative measures for terrorism; detainees are subjected to patriotic propaganda about China and anything related to Uyghur traditional practices is banned.
Nury Turkel, commissioner at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), said the allegations in the BBC article amounted to be “evidence of horrific sexual violence against Uyghur women in the Chinese Communist Party’s concentration camps.”
“The international community must not stay silent; now is the time to hold China accountable for genocide,” said Turkel.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China expressed similar sentiment.
“Survivors of Xinjiang mass internment camps provided horrific accounts of rape, torture, and forced sterilization of Uyghur and Kazakh women,” the commission said. “These accounts add to existing documentation of state violence against ethnic minority women in Xinjiang.”
In 2020, an AP report documented that Uyghur women were subject to mass forced sterilizations, abortions, and implantation of contraceptive devices by Chinese authorities.
According to the BBC, the Chinese government would not respond to claims about systemic rape and torture in the camps in Xinjiang. The government told the BBC that the camps were “vocational education and training centres,” and that “The Chinese government protects the rights and interests of all ethnic minorities equally.”
On Jan. 19, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo determined that “the People’s Republic of China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, targeting Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups.”
Among the atrocities that Pompeo cited for his genocide determination included PRC authorities subjecting Uyghur women to “forced sterilizations and abortions” and coerced marriage of non-Uyghurs.
Current Secretary of State Antony Blinken, confirmed to the position on Jan. 26, said that he agreed with Pompeo’s genocide determination and added “that would be my judgement as well” during his confirmation hearing.