A witness at this week’s Uyghur Tribunal in London, identifying himself as a former Chinese law enforcement officer, testified that his colleagues regularly used torture devices and severely brutalized victims in the nation’s Uyghur concentration camps, the human rights magazine Bitter Winter reported on Thursday.
The tribunal concluded on Monday, featuring over 30 witnesses, both former officers and former inmates in the concentration camps, detailing their experiences under the Chinese Communist Party. China is believed to be running over 1,000 concentration camps in Xinjiang, its westernmost region and home to the majority of the nation’s Uyghur ethnic minority. In addition to Uyghurs, who are majority Sunni Muslim, individuals belonging to other Muslim ethnic minorities, primarily Kazakhs and Kyrgyz people, have also disappeared into the camps.
In 2019, the Pentagon estimated that as many as 3 million people were trapped in Chinese concentration camps. Since then, China has moved thousands of Uyghurs into factories throughout the country to engage in slave labor and moved some into Xinjiang’s cotton fields to pick cotton by force. China has also implemented a massive forced sterilization campaign to prevent the growth of the Uyghur ethnic group. Both the administrations of Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden have deemed the evidence regarding the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang to constitute the international crime of genocide.
The former police witness at the Uyghur tribunal used the pseudonym “Wang Keizhan” and said he worked in the camps in 2019. He has since fled the country for Germany, from which he testified. He stated he believed that he was among 150,000 rookie law enforcement officers Beijing flooded Xinjiang with to staff the prisons.
While there, he said, superiors encouraged the recruits to use as many types of egregious torture on those in the camps as possible. Among the types of torture described were a form of pseudo-drowning in which “their limbs were tied, and waterpipes were inserted in their mouth to force water into their lungs.” Some had their limbs hammered into pieces. The officer also confirmed the use of electric devices on men’s genitals to torture them, corresponding to testimonies from women trapped in the camps who have previously said that officers raped them with electric batons. Similar to the water torture, some victims had a plastic bag tied around their heads to suffocate them to near-death, he said.
“If a Chinese police officer decided to arrest Uyghurs, we were told to invent reasons and pretexts and to make the arrest appear as legal and plausible as possible,” the officer said. “This is why torture and electrocutions were also routinely administered to Uyghurs.”
“After the worst treatment, they will completely obey and be in line with the Party. They will have no thoughts of their own left,” the officer concluded, referring to the concentration camp victims.
While widespread evidence of the construction of large concentration camps only began to surface in 2017, Uyghurs have long accused the state of widespread repression. One of the witnesses at the tribunal, Mehmut Tevekkül, said he was arrested in 2009 and 2010. He described the torture he experienced under Chinese Communist Party custody.
“I was put on the tiger chair and they whipped my feet with iron wire,” he said. “There [was] a bolt directly above the tiger chair, and the heat from that bolt [was] unbearable.”
Multiple concentration camp survivors who have spoken out since fleeing China have testified to the use of the “tiger chair,” a painful apparatus that renders the victim immobile.
Other witnesses described human rights abuses outside the camps. A Uyghur woman, Nurisman Abdureshid, testified to the widespread sterilization of women in her village and forced abortions for those found to be pregnant at the time of the government raid on the town. She reportedly said that the fear of being punished, possibly sent to a concentration camp, led some women to preemptively kill their unborn children rather than endure the state’s forced abortions.
The Communist Party has denied all accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
“This so-called ‘Uyghur Tribunal’ has nothing to do with law. It is a pure anti-China farce,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said following the conclusion of the tribunal. “No matter how anti-China forces rack their brains to put on anti-China farces, China, including its Xinjiang region, will enjoy greater development and there will be more and more voices in the world calling for an objective and just view of Xinjiang. At the end of day, this clumsy show directed and acted out by those with ulterior motives would be all in vain.”
The regional Communist Party of Xinjiang staged a press conference on Wednesday to counter the revelations at the tribunal, using relatives of some known survivors of concentration camps to call the witnesses liars. The Chinese state is known to force Uyghurs living in Xinjiang to publicly condemn relatives who advocate for human rights abroad or arrests or disappears them to use as leverage to silence activists. Many Uyghur people living abroad say they cannot contact their families without endangering them.