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‘Become Chinese or die’: Inside China’s detention camps for Uyghurs

Jun 14, 2022


Leaked photos show prison-like conditions in what China calls “re-education” camps for its Uyghur Muslim population in the country’s Xinjiang region. The photos were hacked from police servers.

Name: Rahile Omer                                       Age in 2018: 15                                         Reason for detention: re-education []

They show chained inmates being detained by SWAT teams, indoctrination sessions and documents that reveal a shoot-on-sight policy for those who try to escape. 

The documents also reveal the frivolous reasons for detention. One man was held for 10 years on terrorism charges after authorities determined he had “strong religious leanings” because he didn’t drink or smoke. The detainees range in age from 15 to 73. 

 The photos were released as Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, visited China and the country’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Bachelet said she raised concerns about the treatment of Uyghurs and asked the government to review its policies and make sure they are not applied in a discriminatory way. 

What is China doing to the Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities? 

On the final day of the Trump administration, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo determined China is committing crimes against humanity and genocide. The Biden administration agrees. Both cited torture, forced abortions, sterilizations, forced labor and removing children from their families in a “systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state.”

It’s believed as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and members of other ethnic minority groups have been arbitrarily detained in prison-like facilities.  

Name: Meryemnisa Ismayil                           Age in 2018: 73             []

The State Department created a video in which former detainees and families of current prisoners spoke out. They described being put into “concentration camps” by the Chinese government.  

“We were given two strict options: either become Chinese or die,” an unidentified former detainee said in the video.  

China’s response

The Chinese Communist Party is accusing the U.S. of  “smearing China.” President Xi Jinping says his government’s actions to Sinicize Islam, or make Islam align bettter with Chinese culture, are “totally correct and must carry on for a long time.” 

Punitive sanctions

Name: Anihan Hamit                                     Age in 2018: 73             []

In December 2021, President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act into law. The measure assumes all goods manufactured in the Xingjiang region of China are made with slave labor and therefore cannot be imported. The law will impact millions of dollars in yearly imports, including computer parts and food. Products believed to be made with forced labor include cotton, tomatoes, clothes, computer parts and more. 

“We as a country have become so reliant on China, that we’ve turned a blind eye to the slave labor that makes our shoes, our solar panels, and much more,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said.