A former inmate at one of the ‘re-education camps’ in China has alleged that Muslims detained in the facilities by the Chinese authorities were forced to drink alcohol and eat pork, reported The Independent.
“I was detained without trial or access to a lawyer and forced to disavow my beliefs while praising the Communist Party,” Omir Bekali, one of those detained in the camp, told the publication.
According to Bekali, he was moved to the camp after seven months in prison and contemplated taking his own life after just 20 days at the facility.
Rough estimates suggest that the Chinese government has confined about a million or more Muslims in these camps since spring last year.
Some have called it “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today” while a leading historian called it “cultural cleansing”.
Bekali stated that when inmates refused to follow orders, they were made to stand against a wall for five hours at a time. Bekali was punished with solitary confinement, and deprived of food for a whole day, according to his account.
“The psychological pressure is enormous when you have to criticise yourself, denounce your thinking – your own ethnic group,” Bekali told The Independent, who broke down in tears as he described the camp. “I still think about it every night, until the sun rises. I can’t sleep. The thoughts are with me all the time.”
Re-education camps are mostly for the ethnic Muslims in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, a province half the size of India.
China considers separatist movements in the area as a threat to the stability of the country, and officials usually avoid commenting on the issue any further.
The internment programme aims to rewire the political thinking of detainees, erase their Islamic beliefs and reshape their very identities. The camps have expanded rapidly over the past year, with almost no judicial process or legal paperwork. Detainees who most vigorously criticise the people and things they love are rewarded, and those who refuse to do so are punished with solitary confinement, beatings and food deprivation.
The recollections of Bekali, a heavyset and quiet 42-year-old, offer what appears to be the most detailed account yet of life inside so-called re-education camps. Rare interviews with three other former internees and a former instructor in other centres corroborated Bekali’s depiction. Most spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their families in China, added the British publication.
Bekali’s case stands out because he was a foreign citizen, from Kazakhstan, who was seized by China’s security agencies and detained for eight months last year without recourse. Although some details are impossible to verify, two Kazakh diplomats confirmed he was held for seven months and then sent for re-education.
The detention programme is a hallmark of China’s emboldened state security apparatus and is partly rooted in the ancient Chinese belief in transformation through education – taken once before to terrifying extremes during the mass reform campaigns of Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader sometimes channelled by Xi.
“Cultural cleansing is Beijing’s attempt to find a final solution to the Xinjiang problem,” said James Millward, a China historian at Georgetown University.
Rian Thum, a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, said China’s re-education system echoed some of the worst human rights violations in history.
“The closest analogue is maybe the Cultural Revolution in that this will leave long-term, psychological effects,” Thum said. “This will create a multigenerational trauma from which many people will never recover.”
However, fragments in state media and journals show the confidence Xinjiang officials hold in methods that they say work well to curb religious extremism. China’s top prosecutor, Zhang Jun, urged Xinjiang’s authorities this month to extensively expand what the government calls the “transformation through education” drive in an “all-out effort” to fight separatism and extremism.
In a June 2017 paper published by a state-run journal, a researcher from Xinjiang’s Communist Party School reported that most of 588 surveyed participants did not know what they had done wrong when they were sent to re-education. But by the time they were released, nearly all – 98.8 per cent– had learned their mistakes, the paper said.
Transformation through education, the researcher concluded, “is a permanent cure”.
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released earlier this week claimed that Chinese officials were now regularly imposing themselves on families in Xinjiang in “home stays”.
During the visits, unwilling hosts are allegedly forced to tell authorities about their lives and political views and are subject to indoctrination.
“Muslim families across Xinjiang are now literally eating and sleeping under the watchful eye of the state in their own homes,” said HRW’s Maya Wang, a senior researcher. “The latest drive adds to a whole host of pervasive – and perverse – controls on everyday life in Xinjiang.”
This article originally appeared in The Independent