Editor’s note: The following article contains graphic accounts of sexual violence against Uyghur women that some readers may find distressing and which could be triggering.
Uyghur women detained in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are being subjected to systematic rape and brutal torture, according to accounts told to the BBC by former detainees and a former guard. One of the detainees, Tursunay Ziawudun, said that what she went through is perhaps “the most unforgettable scar on me forever.”
“They were three men. Not one, but three,” said Ziawudun, describing how one night during her nine months in the camp three men took her from her cell and gang-raped her. “They did whatever evil their mind could think of, and they didn’t spare any part of my body, biting it to the extent that it was disgusting to look at. They didn’t just rape; they were barbaric. They had bitten all over my body.”
Uyghur Women Recount Stories of Rape, Torture
Ziawudun is one of several Uyghur women who spoke to the BBC about her experience in one of China’s so-called “re-education” camps. During the time she was detained, she was raped three times in what she called a “black room” with no cameras. Ziawudun said that even though the COVID-19 pandemic had not yet begun, the men who raped her always wore masks. In addition to biting her, the men also used electric rods while sexually abusing her. And this was not an isolated event, according to Ziawudun. “Every night” one or more Chinese men would rape women in the camp.
There are about 11 million Uyghurs, a primarily Muslim ethnic minority, who live in China’s XUAR. Following a series of 2016 terrorist attacks that were attributed to Uyghur separatists, the Chinese government began implementing a campaign to “re-educate” the Uyghurs in the name of suppressing extremism. The Chinese government has consistently denied reports that it is detaining, torturing, and brainwashing a minimum of one million people. In a statement to the BBC, a government spokeswoman said that the camps in the XUAR are for the purposes of “vocational and educational training” and that the government “attaches great importance to protecting women’s rights.” Mounting evidence indicates, however, that the government is actually perpetrating a modern-day Holocaust by attempting to exterminate the Uyghur people and their culture.
Documents leaked at the end of 2019 revealed that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has an organized plan for oppressing minorities, and religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter provided footage to the BBC showing halls lined with prison cells inside the camps. Other evidence shows that China is using advanced technology to surveil and arrest Uyghurs for infractions that range from wearing a headscarf to having “extremist thoughts.” An NPR report from 2018 says the secretary over the region has “transformed [it] into one of the world’s most tightly controlled police states.” Footage leaked in 2020 shows Uyghurs being escorted off of trains into labor camps.
What you’re watching is Uigher Muslims escorted off of trains headed off to forced labor camps. All of their heads are shaved. A second holocaust is happening right now, in the age of technology, and we are mostly silent.pic.twitter.com/F83ZUMEeEV
— Griffin Gulledge (@griffingulledge) July 15, 2020
The BBC’s story is not the first time that Uyghur women have spoken out. In August 2020, other Uyghur women who have escaped from China said the government is attempting to exterminate the Uyghur population through forced sterilization, abortion, and infanticide. The women were either witnesses of those crimes, assisted in them, or were subjected to them themselves. Adrian Zenz is a senior fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington D.C. In June 2020, he published a report that validates these accounts and extensively documents evidence of the appalling methods the Chinese Communist Party is using to suppress the growth of the Uyghur population.
The night Ziawudun was raped for the first time, she was taken from her cell along with one of her cellmates. She saw her cellmate go into another room, after which Ziawudun heard the woman start screaming. “I don’t know how to explain to you, I thought they were torturing her. I never thought about them raping,” said Ziawudun. “The girl became completely different after that, she wouldn’t speak to anyone, she sat quietly staring as if in a trance. There were many people in those cells who lost their minds.”
Ziawudun also corroborated the accounts from the other Uyghur women who report women being forcibly sterilized and compelled to get IUDs. “It is very obvious,” she said. “Their goal is to destroy everyone. And everybody knows it.”
Another woman who spoke to the BBC named Gulzira Auelkhan said she was forced against her will to assist the Chinese guards who were raping the women. She said, “My job was to remove their clothes above the waist and handcuff them so they cannot move. Then I would leave the women in the room and a man would enter—some Chinese man from outside or policeman. I sat silently next to the door, and when the man left the room I took the woman for a shower.”
The men picked whichever women they thought were the prettiest, said Auelkhan, and the victims were ordered not to tell anyone about what had happened to them. She said, “It is designed to destroy everyone’s spirit.”