A Uyghur woman alleged in an interview published this weekend that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that the government forced her to live with her husband’s boss, a Han person, who felt at liberty to sexually harass her in front of her husband.
The CCP has imposed a program in which Han “relatives,” officially designated Han communist agents, visit Uyghur families once a month as part of an elaborate assimilation program that has allegedly led to rampant sexual abuse of Uyghurs by CCP personnel in the region.
In a report published on Saturday, human rights magazine Bitter Winter described the so-called “Pair Up and Become Family” program as “the forcible billeting of one million [CCP] cadres to eat, cook, study, live, and sleep together with Uyghurs in their homes, which … in the minds of some is none other than institutionalized rape and sexual abuse.”
The magazine interviewed Qelbinur Sidik, a Uyghur woman who has first-hand experience with the program. She managed to flee Xinjiang for Europe in December 2019 by seeking medical treatment abroad. Sidik described the program as the government’s way of allowing CCP monitors to infiltrate Uyghurs’ most intimate spaces.
“We were to ‘live together, cook together, eat together, learn together, sleep together’ with Han cadres assigned by the local government. Women must have a male Han cadre ‘relative’ and men must have a Han female ‘relative,’” she said.
“At first, they told us we should live together for one week every three months. But this soon increased to a week once a month,” Qelbinur explained.
“We had no option but to accept the arrangements, and no right to object,” she added.
The scheme reportedly started as part of the CCP’s “National Ethnic Unity Day” in Xinjiang, which the government promoted as supporting cross-cultural relations between the region’s Han Chinese ruling class and the ethnic Muslim Uyghurs native to the territory. In 2016, the government combined this holiday “with a day of inter-ethnic activities of eating, dancing, and cooking together,” according to the report.
“Government staff began to be paired with villagers, with the aim of stemming [what the CCP refers to as] “the plague of sabotage activities of the ‘three evil forces’ of separatism, extremism, and terrorism,” or Uyghur expressions of their Muslim faith and culture.
“In May 2017, government officials announced a new program to celebrate a whole week of inter-ethnic activities, entitled the ‘five togethers’ ” in Mandarin, which later evolved into the “Pair Up and Become Family” initiative.
Sidik said she and her husband were forced to host her husband’s 56-year-old Han Chinese boss in their home as part of the program. Sidik’s testimony differs from some others in the “Pair Up and Become Family” initiative in that her husband was also in the home; many who have survived the initiative have testified that the Han “relatives” moved in with them after the Communist Party sent the men in the family to concentration camps.
During each of his week-long stays in the house, the boss allegedly sexually harassed Sidik. She claims that “he would stroke her face in front of her husband telling them how much he loved Uyghur food and Uyghur women. He insisted on addressing his conversation towards her [Sidik] due to her husband’s lack of Mandarin,” according to the report. The boss feigned interest in Sidik “teaching him how to cook, how to use a knife and a wok, so that they could be alone in the kitchen. ‘He would strip down to his shorts and sexually harass me while I was cooking,’ she explained, describing how he used the opportunity away from her husband to embrace her and grab her hands.”
The man “would insist I dance for or with him and sometimes he wanted me to sleep in his room,” Sidik told the magazine.
“If my husband was not around, he would be excessively and revoltingly amorous, but I managed to escape by subtly declining his advances,” she explained.
According to the report, accounts of sexual harassment and rape have become so common in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, under the “Pair Up and Become Family” initiative that “safeguards were later introduced billeting groups of three Uyghur women to one Han [Chinese] ‘relative’.”
In January 2018, the CCP mouthpiece Global Times published an official Chinese government account of the program, describing it as an initiative targeting Xinjiang’s most desperate areas.
“Although the ethnic unity campaign was conducted across Xinjiang, it mainly targeted the southern regions of Xinjiang which are comparatively poorer, more outlying, and under a higher threat from the ‘three evil forces’ [of separatism, extremism, and terrorism],” a CCP official surnamed Niu told the newspaper. Niu was “paired with a Uyghur family in a village in Yengisar county, Kashgar, at the end of 2016.”
“During their unity activities, Niu and his colleagues would often conduct ideological guidance to those villagers by talking about previous cases of criminals charged with supporting and promoting terrorism,” according to the report.
“Local villagers trusted us through a series of unity activities and they have actively tipped off police over the past two years. Their actions reflected that they have truly realized the harm of the three evil forces,” Niu said.
In Xinjiang, Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities are routinely arrested for CCP-designated offenses, including the “extremist” behavior of practicing the Muslim faith. Uyghurs are often detained in CCP-run concentration camps in Xinjiang for exhibiting outward expressions of religious worship, such as dressing in traditional clothing or observing dietary restrictions. During the Islamic holiday of Ramadan, for example, signs of “extremism” include “conducting business as usual” and “women wearing religious clothing to work,” according to Radio Free Asia.