A London panel investigating the plight of Uyghurs in China on Friday heard witness testimony of torture and gang rapes, in a process slammed by Beijing as a mendacious smear.
One witness described squalid conditions and brutality in camps in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, and said one woman had died after undergoing forced sterilisation.
The nine UK-based jurors of the “Uyghur Tribunal”, including lawyers and human rights experts, convened the first of two evidence sessions and intend to publish a report in December on whether China is guilty of genocide.
“Allegations made against the PRC (People’s Republic of China) are grave,” tribunal chair Geoffrey Nice said at the opening of the first four-day session, explaining they included numerous breaches of the UN declaration on human rights.
The body is not affiliated with any government, and China has refused to participate, branding it a “machine producing lies”. It has slapped sanctions on Nice, a former UN war crimes prosecutor, and others involved.
But counsel for the tribunal said the US and Australian governments had offered to provide relevant material, to add to thousands of pages of documentary evidence already compiled.
It was set up at the request of the World Uyghur Congress, the largest group representing exiled Uyghurs, which lobbies the international community to take action against China over alleged abuses in Xinjiang.
But Nice and his colleagues have vowed that the panel’s work will be “impartial” and led by the evidence.
Qelbinur Sidik, an ethnic-Uzbek teacher from Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, said she was ordered by communist party bosses to teach Chinese in two fetid and crowded “re-education” camps, one male and one female, for Uyghurs.
– ‘Blasphemy against the law’ –
The so-called students were made to wear shackles during hours-long classes, she told the tribunal.
“The police, the guards in the camp, they didn’t see the male prisoners as human beings,” Sidik said. “They enjoyed watching them being humiliated and their suffering was for them their joy.”
Female prisoners were allegedly abused when they were taken for interrogation. “They were not only tortured but also raped, sometimes gang-raped,” Sidik said.
Forced sterilisation of Uyghur women was common and in one instance, a female prisoner died from the process, she said.
Sidik said she was also subjected to forced sterilisation before she was given a visa to visit her daughter in the Netherlands, and fled China.
“The things that I have witnessed and I experienced, I cannot forget even for a day,” she said. “I am a woman myself, I have a daughter. I don’t wish anyone to suffer like that.”
Rights groups say up to one million Uyghurs and people from other ethnic-Turkic minorities are detained in internment camps in Xinjiang.
The allegations heard at the tribunal are consistent with many other accounts emanating from the camps in Xinjiang, leading the US government to declare that genocide is underway.
But China insists the camps are for the educational improvement of Xinjiang residents, to deter extremism and boost incomes.
“This pseudo tribunal has nothing to do with the law. It is embezzling the name of a ‘tribunal’ to engage in anti-China politics and manipulation of public opinion,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Thursday.
“It is pure blasphemy against the law,” he said.
“This so-called tribunal has also entangled a group of people whose opposition to China is their profession and livelihood,” Wang added, noting the backing of the World Uyghur Congress.