China: New testimony from Xinjiang families as UN accused of 'falling for propaganda'

Amnesty International accused the UN of undermining accountability for crimes against humanity in Xinjiang in China as it criticised the outgoing Human Rights Commissioner for repeated failure to act, including the delayed publication of a report on the crisis.

The criticism comes as Amnesty published heart-breaking new testimony from relatives of 48 ethnic Uyghur and Kazakh people detained in secretive camps in the region.

The new testimony gathered by Amnesty is part of a hard-hitting Free Xinjiang Detainees campaign, which now tells the stories of 120 individuals who have been swept up in China’s vast system of prisons and internment camps in Xinjiang.

Amnesty condemned the fact that the outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has yet to release a long-awaited report on serious human rights violations in Xinjiang, and has repeatedly failed to recognise the gravity of violations by Chinese authorities in the region. Due to the delay, the ongoing UN Human Rights Council’s 50th session, which ends this week, will close without having been able to discuss the UN's findings on Xinjiang. At the end of May, in a press conference following her trip to China, including a brief visit to Xinjiang, Bachelet failed to acknowledge serious human rights violations in China. Her statement at the end of her visit undermined efforts to advance accountability in the region, suggesting she had been manipulated by a predictable propaganda exercise orchestrated by the Chinese government. Bachelet admitted afterwards that she was not able to speak to any detained Uyghurs or their families while in Xinjiang and was accompanied by state officials at all times in the region.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:

“The accounts of these families offer a window into the horrors taking place in Xinjiang, which amount to crimes against humanity.

“Many people said they have several family members in detention, illustrating the industrial scale of the abuses – one man said 40 of his relatives had been detained.

“The foot-dragging which has characterised the UN response to the dystopian nightmare in Xinjiang adds insult to injury for victims and survivors of China’s campaign of mass imprisonment, torture and persecution.

“Despite a growing body of evidence, Chinese authorities are still lying to the world.

“The Chinese authorities must be held accountable, and a crucial step is for High Commissioner Bachelet to publish her long-delayed report that should be presented urgently at the UN Human Rights Council. Her ongoing failure to call out crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations in Xinjiang is an obstacle to justice. It also puts the UN system to shame.”

‘There is no court, they just put him in jail and told him it would be for 25 years’

Amnesty recently carried out in-person interviews in Turkey with exiled relatives of 48 detainees. They described how their loved ones had been arrested for “terrorism” related or other spurious charges, apparently for things as mundane as traveling or paying for their children’s education abroad. Others appear to have been arrested solely on the basis of their religion or ethnicity.

Gulaisha Oralbay, a Kazakh woman, described what happened to her brother, Dilshat Oralbay, a retired Kazakh journalist and translator, after the Chinese authorities coaxed him into returning to Xinjiang from Kazakhstan in 2017. His passport was confiscated immediately upon his return, and he was arrested several months later.

“There is no court, they just put him in jail, [and told him it would be] for 25 years,” Gulaisha said.

“I don’t even think [he] himself knows the reason. Somebody said [it was] because he travelled to Kazakhstan, and different excuses; there is no clear justification and reason.”

Gulaisha and Dilshat’s two sisters, Bakytgul and Bagila Oralbay, are also in detention.

Abdullah Rasul told Amnesty his brother Parhat Rasul, a Uyghur farmer and part-time butcher, was detained and taken to an internment camp in May 2017. The family have not heard from him directly since then, but in 2018 a reliable source told them Parhat had been sentenced to nine years in prison.

Parhat’s family believes that he was arrested simply because he is an observant Muslim and was doing charity work. Family members said Parhat’s wife Kalbinur and his mother-in-law Parizat Abdugul were also imprisoned. Parhat and Kalbinur have two daughters, aged 16 and 14, and a son aged 11.

“They [the Chinese government] want to erase our identity, erase our culture, erase our religion,” Abdullah Rasul said. “I hope everyone can see clearly what is happening in our homeland.”

Medine Nazimi described how she last heard the voice of her sister, Mevlüde Hilal, at the end of 2016. Mevlüde had been studying in Turkey but, after she returned to Xinjiang to help her ailing mother, she was sent to an internment camp in 2017 and later allegedly sentenced to 10 years in prison on a charge of “separatism”. She is married and has a young daughter.

“When they took my sister, my niece, Aisha, was only one year old,” Medine told Amnesty. “We were just going about our daily lives, and we were a happy family. My sister was taken for only one reason: it’s because she's a Uyghur.”

People who speak out about the situation do so at great risk; several family members of detainees described being threatened by the authorities for going public.

Abudurehman Tothi, a Uyghur businessman and activist living in Turkey, was interviewed by international media about his wife and mother’s imprisonment and father’s arbitrary detention. He told Amnesty that afterwards the Chinese consulate in Turkey contacted him and threatened him with detention or death in a “car crash”.

More detail available at: Free Xinjiang Detainees

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