When will China stop torturing prisoners?

Cruel report from China : Uyghur secretly sends messages and a video from imprisonment

Merdan Ghappar is a successful model of the Taobao e-commerce platform, made good money with promotional videos for clothing brands. But the 31-year-old is also a Uyghur. And this was his undoing. Like tens of thousands of minority groups, he was arrested.

Now the British broadcaster BBC has published videos and text messages that the Uyghur apparently was able to send secretly from a prison that is apparently a quarantine facility due to the corona virus. Together they deliver a terrifying and extremely rare report on China's highly secure and secret detention system for Uyghurs. They reveal torture, ill-treatment and inhumane living conditions.

An estimated ten million Uyghurs live in China, most of them in Xinjiang Province in the far west of the country. They are considered to be ethnically related to the Turks and are economically, politically and culturally oppressed by the ruling Han Chinese. After they came to power in 1949, the communists incorporated the former East Turkestan into China. The Beijing government accuses Uighur groups of separatism and terrorism.

Since 2017, more than a million Uyghurs and members of other Turkish-Muslim minorities are said to have disappeared in a huge network of "re-education camps" in the Xinjiang region. According to reports by human rights activists, prisoners are subjected to political indoctrination, forced to give up their religion and culture, and tortured.

The Uyghurs are under digital surveillance, thousands of children have been separated from their parents, and recent research shows that women have been forcibly forced to use birth control. In addition, tens of thousands of Uyghurs are now being used as forced labor all over China, as it became known in the spring.

The Beijing government insists that the camps are voluntary schools for anti-extremist training. But on top of the outright allegations of torture and ill-treatment, Ghappar's report appears to provide evidence that, despite China's claims that most re-education camps have been closed, significant numbers of Uyghurs are still being detained and held without charge.

After Ghappar had already served a 16-month prison sentence by the end of 2019 on charges of drug offenses that were alleged to have been invented, the joy of his freedom lasted only briefly, according to the BBC report. He was apparently detained again in January and taken back to Xinjiang by the police.

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When Ghappar fell ill, he was reportedly taken to a hospital and then to an isolated room on a neighboring property, where his belongings - including his phone, apparently by mistake - were returned. This is how he is said to have been able to get in touch with his relatives.

A video that Ghappar sent to his family in Europe shows him with a frightened look in a small room while propaganda announcements are played over a loudspeaker system in the background. Ghappar holds the camera in his right hand. You can see his dirty clothes, his swollen ankles and the handcuffs that hold his left wrist to the metal frame of the bed - the only piece of furniture in the room.

According to the BBC, Ghappar reported on his traumatic experiences on the Chinese social media channel WeChat. His news was, according to the broadcaster, translated by James Millward, a history professor at Georgetown University in Washington DC.

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About his time in the police cell, he wrote: “I saw 50 to 60 people who were held in a small room no more than 50 square meters, men on the right, women on the left.” And further: “All carried a so-called 'four-piece suit', a black sack over the head, handcuffs, leg shackles and an iron chain that connected the handcuffs to the shackles. ”This way of shackling prisoners is repeatedly criticized by human rights activists.

Ghappar also claims to have been forced to wear the "four-piece suit". Then he and fellow prisoners were forced into a kind of cage in the cell, in which there was no place to sleep or even to lie down. "I lifted the sack on my head and told the police officer that the handcuffs were so tight that they injured my wrists," he wrote in one of the text messages. "He yelled at me violently and said, 'If you take the hood off again, I'll beat you to death.' And after that I didn't dare to speak ”, added Ghappar. "Dying here is the last thing I want."

Ghappar further describes that the prisoners were infested with lice, had to share dirty dishes and had to rummage through the remains of the police officers' meals for something to eat. When he was transferred to an isolated cell for several days, he was able to hear the screams of people who were interrogated nearby. “Once I heard a man scream from morning to night. That was psychological torture for me - I was afraid that I would be next. "

Video and text messages also reveal the tremendous psychological pressures placed on Uighur communities. Including a document he photographed in which children at the age of 13 are asked to “repent and surrender”.

In addition, the number of coronavirus infections in Xinjiang is currently skyrocketing, as reported by the BBC. The described living conditions of the prisoners made clear the serious risk of infection in the pandemic.

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The situation in Xinjiang has moved more into focus in recent months. Several quarters are calling for China's President Xi Jinping to allow independent investigators.

In addition, the US has imposed sanctions on China for treating the Uyghurs and other Turkish Muslim minorities, and other states are considering similar steps. But human rights activists doubt that this will be enough to really get Beijing to give in.

The BBC claims to have asked the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the authorities in Xinjiang for comments in detailed inquiries. There were no answers.

Ghappar's uncle, Abdulhakim Ghappar, told the BBC that he believed Ghappar was arrested because he had a family outside of China who was politically active. "He was arrested just because I was overseas participating in protests against Chinese human rights violations," he said. There is no official information about the reason for his arrest or his whereabouts.

The uncle, who, according to the BBC, now lives in the Netherlands, hopes that the original 4:38 minute video could mobilize public opinion in the same way as the footage of the deadly use of the US police in the case of the African American George Floyd became a powerful symbol of racial discrimination in the United States. "They both experienced brutality because of their ethnicity," he said. "But while in America people speak out, in our case there is silence."

The family is aware, Abdulhakim Ghappar said, that the disclosure could make Merdan Ghappar's situation worse, but their last hope is to raise awareness of both his case and the plight of Uyghurs in general. According to the BBC, the news to the family stopped abruptly after a few days - there has been no sign of life from Merdan Ghappar since March.

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