Along with Muslims, members of The Church of Almighty God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other persecuted groups are also sent to internment camps for “transformation.”
by Xiang Yi
“In the camp, more than a dozen ‘students’ live in one small room, less than 20 square meters in size. With toilet inside, foul smells permeate the entire room,” a Hui Muslim from northern Xinjiang, who was released last May from a transformation through education camp, told Bitter Winter. The man was detained on suspicion of doing missionary work as he often helped people in need and gave them alms.
“As a punishment, guards would order inmates to eat by the toilet as others were using it. If they refused, they would face further physical punishment, for example, forced to stand facing the wall for more than ten hours,” the man continued. “Detainees were forced to sit on a small stool studying and memorizing national laws and regulations, writing essays about them, and doing other similar activities for more than a dozen hours each day.” On top of never-ending indoctrination classes and various forms of harassment, guards would sometimes force detainees to walk up to each other and say, “I love you,” which was exceptionally cruel knowing the hardships these people were subjected to daily.
The man added that guards had informers in each class, who monitored fellow detainees’ every word and movement. Those who were reported complaining or making “improper” remarks were punished.
“Some detainees were tormented to the brink of mental exhaustion,” the Hui Muslim continued. “One of them said nothing but ‘I obey’ to whomever he met. Many were transferred to psychiatric hospitals and detained there. Some detainees killed themselves, some were tortured to death, and many disappeared without a trace.”
He further explained that, as a rule, many released detainees are not willing to share their experiences in the camps because they must sign confidentiality agreements. If they disclose any information, they would be punished.
A member of The Church of Almighty God (CAG) in her sixties from Xinjiang’s Shihezi city told Bitter Winter that she was subjected to mandatory indoctrination and endured constant physical punishment while in detention. She was forced to stay in a half-squat position for over ten hours, sometimes late into the night, for refusing to write reports on what she learned during indoctrination classes. Unable to squat for long, she often fell down but was forced to resume the uncomfortable position again.
“A guard would slap me on the face with a wet slipper,” the woman remembered. “With each slap, she asked me if I still believed in God. She wanted to press me to give up my belief.”
A CAG member from Xinjiang’s Korla city recounted a similar experience. She was detained together with seven other CAG believers and was subjected to physical punishment for over five months because she refused to renounce her faith.
The woman said that several Jehovah’s Witnesses were also detained in the camp. Some young believers had their heads shaved and were frequently beaten for refusing to sing patriotic songs. One woman had to carry a heavy hammer attached to her shackles for more than ten days.
According to a source from Xinjiang’s Kashi city, unnatural deaths often occurred in local transformation through education camps, and the staff would dispose of the bodies in secret, without informing the families of the deceased.
The source told Bitter Winter that in July 2016, an Uyghur man in his 30s from Kashi prefecture’s Bachu county set to a camp for attending the mosque. A year and a half later, he died a sudden death, and the authorities neither explained the cause of death nor officially informed the man’s family. His mother only later learned about his death through other channels.