The Chinese state propaganda outlet Global Times published an interview with a communist official in Xinjiang, home to most of the nation’s ethnic Uyghur Muslims, on Wednesday asserting that the concentration camps there are “schools” and all escaped prisoners are lying.
The attacks targeted two escapees in particular: Mihrigul Tursun, who fled to the United States and says Chinese government officials used electroshock torture on her, sterilized her, and killed her infant son; and Sayragul Sauytbay, who exposed the fact that China is imprisoning thousands of ethnic Kazakhs along with Uyghurs and uses rape and drugs to torture prisoners.
Tursun, the Xinjiang official claimed, was arrested for “inciting hatred” and was carrying syphilis when arrested. The official did not address Tursun’s allegation that concentration camp workers killed the oldest of her infant triplets, instead addressing Tursun’s claim that the Chinese government killed her brother by denying it and printing an alleged quote by him.
Sauytbay, the official claimed, was an incompetent teacher and a criminal fraud.
The Global Times did not offer evidence for any of its claims, such as a criminal or medical record for either woman.
China has for years attempted to subjugate the Uyghur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz ethnic populations of Xinjiang, limiting the open practice of Islam and splitting children from devout families. In early 2018, however, reports began to surface that China had escalated its repression and begun building concentration camps to indoctrinate, torture, and enslave locals. Today, the United States government believes China is holding as many as 3 million people over 1,200 concentration camps across the country’s largest and westernmost state.
The Global Times repeated the Communist Party line that the camps are necessary to “train” individuals tempted to join jihadist groups and that they are a revolutionary way of eradicating terrorism.
The official responding to the Global Times’ questions is an unnamed “spokesperson” for the regional Xinjiang government, a mouthpiece for the people running the concentration camps.
“I’d like to stress again that the education and training centers in Xinjiang are school in nature, set up according to law. They were never the so-called ‘concentration camps’ at all,” the spokesperson said. “Clinics are available in all the centers and professional doctors are there to provide 24-hour free medical service to trainees. Minor ailments are treated at the clinic. In the case of major and acute illnesses, trainees will be sent to hospital. The alleged nine female deaths are pure fabrications.”
In the interview, the official admits, using Orwellian Chinese communist language, that the camps serve two purposes: indoctrinating Muslims into worshipping dictator Xi Jinping and his authoritarian state, and using detainees as slaves. Or, in the language of a Xinjiang government spokesperson: “theoretical studies taught in classrooms and actual skills practiced in workshops.”
All those in vocational camps, the official alleges, have some ties to terrorism, ranging from being solicited to engage in terrorist activity to actually executing terrorist attacks.
The spokesperson claimed that no foreign citizens have ever been detained in the camp, despite Sauytbay’s testimony that as many as 2,500 ethnic Kazakhs – some, presumably, citizens of Kazakhstan – were in the camp authorities imprisoned her in. The government of Australia has also confirmed that some Australian citizens have landed in the camps, a claim China denies.
The spokesperson accused Tursun of “instigating ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination” and claimed that she did not face time in prison due to “humanitarian considerations,” because she had allegedly contracted “syphilis and other infectious diseases.” The spokesperson also offered a quote allegedly from brother Erkbar Tursun, who Mihrigul alleges the Chinese government murdered: “my sister is always telling lies. She not only said I died, but also lied about others’ deaths.”
The interview does not address Tursun’s infant son.
Sauytbay, the spokesperson alleged, was a schoolteacher. The spokesperson claimed she held a grudge against the government because she was caught “seeking performance bonuses through cheating.”
The official claimed that neither woman ever set foot in a camp, but provided no evidence of their alleged wrongdoing. The claims against Tursun appeared especially difficult to corroborate given that China significantly represses dissidents and defines “hate speech” as anything that jeopardizes the supremacy of the Communist Party.
Tursun began speaking out a year ago, when she arrived in Washington, DC. Her version of events significantly deviates from the Chinese regime’s. She told reporters at the National Press Club last year that authorities imprisoned her because she traveled to Egypt, her husband’s native country, once with her family. Once in the camps, she was subject to indoctrination, torture, and later confirmed sterilization.
“The authorities put a helmet-like thing on my head, and each time I was electrocuted, my whole body would shake violently and I would feel the pain in my veins,” Tursun described. “I begged them to kill me.”
Chinese media has previously claimed that Chinese people “laughed” when they heard her testimony.
Like Tursun, Sauytbay described the prison Chinese authorities locked her in as a “concentration camp,” calling it “much more horrifying than prison.” She said she saw detainees taken to a “black room” where they were raped and tortured and described the widespread use of drugs to make detainees more docile.
Their testimonies align with those of other survivors. Nearly all survivors are either ethnic Kazakhs who could appeal to the government of Kazakhstan for help or married to foreign citizens who appealed for their freedom.
“Any woman or man under age 35 was raped and sexually abused,” Ruqiye Perhat, a student arrested in Xinjiang in 2009 for four years, told the Washington Post in October. Perhat said violent forced abortions were common following the mass rape.
Other survivors have testified to enslavement, force-feeding of pork and alcohol to devout Muslims, and evidence of the harvesting of organs for sale on the black market.
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