A cut out map of China, with a pin & label over Xinjiang in North-East China

The Truth Behind the Headlines...

Imagine if you were detained in a camp or prison because you travelled or studied abroad, or because you have Whatsapp on your phone. This is the reality for many Uighur people in China.

Over the last few years, headlines have steadily emerged about alleged mass persecutions of a community called the Uighurs in China. German footballer Mesut Ozil condemned China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims back in 2019 and Chinese authorities were quick to brand his claims as “fake news.” His social media accounts in China were blocked. Similarly, UK politicians who spoke out on the topic, are now banned by China from ever entering the country.

So, what’s going on in North East China?

The Uighurs are a Muslim community in North East China who are experiencing ruthless persecution at the hands of the Chinese authorities.

Through years of careful work, we have conducted hundreds of interviews on the ground and analysed satellite imagery and official Chinese documents, all of which indicate a mass-internment programme. It is the one of the most comprehensive pictures yet of what is happening.

Here's what we know:

  • An estimated one million Muslim people have been detained in camps and prisons in Xinjiang, northwest China
  • They are targeted for being Muslim, as the government attempts to erase their beliefs & practices and indoctrinate them with state-sanctioned propaganda about China
  • The Chinese government denies their existence, describing them instead as "transformation-through-education centres" and that people go voluntarily. People are sent by force, and it is up to the authorities to decide when a detainee is transformed or has "graduated".
  • Those that do put up resistance are punished - ranging from verbal abuse, food deprivation, solitary confinement and beatings. There have even been reports of deaths inside the facilities.
  • China organises "have a look" propaganda tours for foreigners - one of which Mesut Ozil has been invited to - while independent UN experts have been prevented from accessing the region.

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Labelled 'extremist' for travelling

"A street in North East China at nighttime shows a scene of a woman helping three children play on a small bike. Another chlld on a toy bike is behind them. The buildings are partially lit by what looks like a street light out of shot. There is also a person on a moped passing by the children""

The Uighurs are among the most closely watched population in the world. As well as facial recognition cameras everywhere, and unhindered access to people’s phones, Government employees can be assigned to live with a family in their home, with the sole purpose to watch their behaviour. 

The Chinese authorities have detained people for travelling within the country and abroad, for having Whatsapp on their phones, for calling loved ones or for wearing religious clothing.

Their behaviour is seen as suspicious and they are labelled ‘extremist’ as they are sent to camps without warning. 

“All people who are travelling abroad go to the camp. You have no right to ask questions. If you ask why it will be seen as resistance.” - Interviewee quoting a Village Chief

What happens at the camps?

"A satellite image shows a suspected camp where one can see secuirty structures, guard towers. It looks like a reote location""

From the moment people enter the camps, they are stripped of personal autonomy and are subjected to a ceaseless campaign of indoctrination. Every moment of their day is regimented and there is no privacy. They are monitored when they eat, sleep and go to the toilet.

Many reported they were physically punished if they spoke anything other than Mandarin Chinese - a language that many from Uighur communities do not speak or understand. Everyone Amnesty International spoke to was tortured or subjected to other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Many were beaten, restrained, deprived of sleep, subjected to extremely cold temperatures (it can get as cold as -20C in Xinjiang) and forced to solitary confinement.

Detainees were also forced to attend classes where they were indoctrinated about the “evils” of Islam and about the wealth, power, and “benevolence” of the President of China and the ruling party.

“I think the purpose [of the classes] was to destroy our religion and to assimilate us… [we were told]...You must not thank Allah; you must thank Xi Jinping for everything”
Yerulan, a former detainee,

The indoctrination is ceaseless and exhausting.

Help support our work to gather evidence to expose human rights violations against ethnic minorities in China and ramp up the pressure on the Chinese authorities.

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Life after the camps

"On a dark grey background, there are cut out images of 5 CCTV cameras to evoke the surveillance this community are under""

Many are held in the camps for between 9-18 months. When released they are either:

  • Sent home - but with severe restrictions of their human rights and constant surveillance,
  • Sent to work in factories, or
  • Sent to prisons

Those who were sent home were subjected to surveillance and had to undergo regular evaluations with some being made to attend classes regularly. In a significant invasion of privacy, government ‘minders’ would stay in the person’s home for several nights to keep watch on them and their activity. On top of this, ex-detainees often also faced social exclusion, often ostracised by families and friends.

“[They asked,] ‘What did you learn? Have your thoughts transformed? Do you love China? What are you going to do when you are released? Do you appreciate your re-education?’ We had to answer all the questions positively or be sent to jail.” - Aitugan

Often, former detainees were sent to work in camps in poor conditions with minimal pay & a discriminatory work environment. They would be taught to sew and would make government uniforms. The pay was too low to live on and many were only allowed leave if another employer took responsibility for them

Several people in the camps were sent to prison. Some were given 15 - 20 year sentences for everyday behaviour - such as setting up a religious book club or allegedly insulting police. At times, there were sham trials where detainees were handed a list of ‘offences’ and they had to choose a ‘crime’ they had committed for their detention.

“Although I never committed a crime, they considered me a criminal.” - Patigul, former detainee.

Crimes against Humanity in China

"A person stands in front of a line of heavily armed soldiers who have their shields up. The person has their first in the air in defiance'

“The Chinese authorities have created a dystopian hellscape on a staggering scale” - Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International CEO

We believe that the evidence we have collected means that the Chinese government has committed multiple crimes against humanity:

  • Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law
  • Torture
  • Persecution

We are calling for an independent and effective investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity and other serious violations of human rights. The Chinese government must immediately close all the camps and release everyone who is detained. They must repeal all laws and practices that abuse the rights of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic groups.

Find out more about China's crimes against humanity & persecution of the Uighur community.

Read more about China's crimes against humanity