The BBC’s Horrifying Uyghur-Torture Story

A Uyghur man sits at a street market in Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, 2011. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The BBC has published some of the most horrifying evidence yet of the Chinese Communist Party’s mass atrocities against the Uyghurs, detailing a disgusting campaign of systematic rape and torture.

An estimated 1 million Uyghurs — and other Turkic peoples in the Xinjiang region — are detained in the CCP’s concentration camps. The brave work of the victims of this modern gulag, as well as that of the reporters and researchers who have fought to bring their stories to light, has added granular detail to the world’s understanding of an ongoing crime against humanity. The BBC story is the latest emergency call for the world to speak the truth about what’s happening in Xinjiang, and do what it can to combat it.

The BBC story features the testimony of Tursunay Ziawudun, a Uyghur woman imprisoned for nine months in the camps. Weaving together the testimony of Ziawudun and other Uyghur detainees, interviews with teachers and police in Xinjiang, in addition to satellite and primary-source analysis corroborating their accounts, the BBC reporters show that the abuses go far beyond the regime’s aggressive program of political brainwashing.

The torture endured by these Uyghur women included rape and torture with electric batons, in addition to other unspeakable acts of sexual violence. At one point, a teacher forced to work in the camps recounts witnessing the gang rape of a 20- or 21-year-old girl perpetrated before an audience of 100 detainees; the authorities subsequently punished anyone with visibly distressed reaction. Such atrocities aren’t the work of individual sadists, but are deliberate and systematic, as dictated by China’s foul totalitarian regime and Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping.

At the end of its report, the BBC quotes Ziawudun, “They say people are released, but in my opinion everyone who leaves the camps is finished.” In her view, as the BBC puts it, that’s the point of the “surveillance, the internment, the indoctrination, the dehumanisation, the sterilization, the torture, the rape.” Ziawudun again: “Their goal is to destroy everyone. And everybody knows it.”

Indeed, everybody knows it, or should. The CCP’s campaign against the Uyghurs is not merely a disproportionate reaction to terrorist attacks and riots that took place in Xinjiang in the years leading up to the current “strike hard” campaign. The BBC report shows how rape is wielded in the camps as a weapon against the Uyghurs as a people. It’s also been used in Uyghur homes, where under a Party program, Han Chinese men are sent to live with and share the beds of women whose husbands have been detained. And in June, it was revealed that the Party is engaged in a systematic campaign to forcibly sterilize Uyghur women and abort their pregnancies.

This all fits into Beijing’s longstanding plan of settling the region with Han Chinese, and in this future, there is no place for the Uyghurs. The regime doesn’t just want to eliminate their culture; it seeks their physical annihilation.

Chinese officials have compared their treatment of the Uyghurs to spraying crop-killing chemicals, likening practicing Muslim Uyghurs to malignant tumors and Islam to a communicable disease.

The Chinese Communist Party is guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide, as the State Department found in January, and as Joe Biden said on the campaign trail and Antony Blinken affirmed during his confirmation hearing. The CCP’s brutality meets the internationally recognized legal definitions for these acts, including under the U.N.’s 1948 Genocide Convention. Debate over the meaning of these terms can be overly legalistic but being forthright about them might help galvanize more of an international response.

There’s been some progress on that front, mostly led by the United States, but few countries have even issued a sharp condemnation of the CCP’s campaign against the Uyghurs. The U.N. secretary general hasn’t. Washington stands alone in having enacted sanctions targeting the officials responsible. And despite recent governmental moves to crack down on Uyghur forced labor, too many multinational corporations remain ensnared in Xinjiang’s slave-labor-supported cotton industry.

For every story like Ziawudun’s, there are probably hundreds of thousands of others just as horrific. Absent a drastic course correction, we will learn many of them one day — while sharing in the collective shame of not having done more.


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