Exiles from Chinese Uyghur camps detail forced abortions and torture
Three Uyghurs who fled China to Turkey describe forced abortions and torture by Chinese authorities in the far west region of Xinjiang in China, before testifying in a People’s Court in London investigating whether Beijing’s actions against the Uyghurs constitute genocide.
The three witnesses include a woman who said she was forced to have an abortion when she was six and a half months pregnant, a former doctor who spoke about draconian birth control policies and a former detainee who claimed to have been “tortured day and night” by Chinese soldiers. while imprisoned in the remote border region.
They spoke to The Associated Press about their experiences before testifying by video link at the independent UK court, which is expected to attract dozens of witnesses when four days of court begin Friday.
The tribunal, which lacks the backing of the UK government, will be chaired by prominent human rights lawyer Geoffrey Nice, who has led the prosecution of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and worked with the International Criminal Court.
Although the court ruling is not binding on any government, organizers hope the process of publicly presenting the evidence will force the international community to tackle growing concerns over allegations of abuse in Xinjiang against Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group.
A witness, Bumeryem Rozi, a mother of four, said authorities in Xinjiang gathered her together with other pregnant women to abort her fifth child in 2007.
She said she complied because she feared the authorities would confiscate her home and property and put her family at risk.
“I was six and a half months pregnant… The police came, a Uyghur and two Chinese. They put me and eight other pregnant women in cars and took us to the hospital, ”Rozi, 55, told the AP from his home in Istanbul.
“They first gave me a pill and told me to take it. So I did. I didn’t know what it was, ”she continued. “Half an hour later, they put a needle in my stomach. And some time later, I lost my child.
Semsinur Gafur, a former obstetrician-gynecologist who worked in a Xinjiang village hospital in the 1990s, said she and other clinicians used to go house to house with a mobile ultrasound machine to check if someone was pregnant.
“If a household had more births than was allowed, they would raze the house… They would flatten the house, destroy it,” Gafur said.
“It was my life there. It was very scary. And because I worked in a public hospital, people didn’t trust me. The Uyghur people considered me a Chinese traitor.
A third Uyghur exile, Mahmut Tevekkul, said he was imprisoned and tortured in 2010 by Chinese authorities who questioned him for information about one of his brothers. Tevekkul said the brother was wanted in part because he had published a religious book in Arabic.
Tevekkul described being beaten and punched in the face during interrogation.
“They put us on a tiled floor, shackled our hands and feet, and tied us to a pipe, like a gas pipe. There were six soldiers guarding us, ”he said.
“They interrogated us until the morning, then they took us to the maximum security zone of the prison. “
One million people detained in camps
The tribunal is the latest attempt to hold China accountable for alleged rights violations against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim and ethnic Turkish minorities.
An estimated one million people or more, mostly Uyghurs, have been confined to re-education camps in Xinjiang in recent years, researchers say.
Chinese authorities have been accused of imposing forced labor, systematic birth control and torture, and of separating children from imprisoned parents.
Beijing has categorically rejected the allegations. Authorities have branded the camps, which they say are now closed, as vocational training centers to teach Chinese language, vocational skills and the law to support economic development and fight extremism.
China saw a wave of terrorist attacks linked to Xinjiang until 2016.
Organizers of the hearings said Chinese authorities ignored requests to participate in the proceedings. The Chinese Embassy in London did not respond to requests for comment, but Chinese officials said the tribunal was set up by “anti-Chinese forces” to spread lies.
“There is no genocide or forced labor in Xinjiang,” regional government spokesman Elijan Anayat told reporters on Thursday.
“If the tribunal insists on going its own way, we would like to express our harsh condemnation and opposition and will be forced to take countermeasures. “
In April, the British parliament followed those of Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada in declaring that Beijing’s policies against the Uyghurs amounted to genocide and crimes against humanity. The US and Australian governments have also done the same.
A woman pleads for the release of her son
Nice was one of nine British citizens sanctioned by China in March for spreading “lies and disinformation” about the country. The move came after the UK and other Western governments took similar action against China for its treatment of Uyghurs.
The lawyer said he was not intimidated, but admitted that the sanctions resulted in the removal of some participants from the court. Organizers also said they were subjected to cyber-targeting.
They had to tighten the security of the event after around 500 of the free tickets to the hearings were booked by people with fake email addresses.
While her fellow exiles said she agreed to testify to seek justice, Rozi, the woman who reported the forced abortion, said she was motivated to speak out for a more personal reason.
Her youngest son has been detained since 2015, when he was just 13, and she hopes the court’s work will one day help her release.
“I want my son to be released as soon as possible,” she said. “I want him to be released.”