Call on China to Free Xinjiang Detainees

Imagine if you were detained in an internment camp or sentenced to prison for years because of your ethnicity or religion, your life or travels abroad, the number of children you have, having WhatsApp on your phone, or your calls to friends and relatives abroad.  

This is the reality for 1 million or more predominantly Muslim adults and children in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang).  

Female detainees exit their cell by crawling under a chain that connects the cell door to the wall. Art by Molly Crabapple
Art: Molly Crabapple

Since 2017, under the guise of a campaign against “terrorism,” the government of China has carried out massive and systematic abuses against Muslims living in Xinjiang. The internment camp system is part of a larger campaign of subjugation, mass surveillance and forced assimilation. 

Now, thanks to courageous former detainees who are sharing their stories, the horrific scale and cruelty of abuses in Xinjiang is becoming increasingly clear. 

In June 2021, Amnesty International published a report that presents the most comprehensive account ever of life inside the internment camps. This new evidence confirms that China has committed crimes against humanity — including imprisonment, torture and persecution — against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities. 

Detainees on their way to an internment camp in Xinjiang, China. Art by Molly Crabapple
Art: Molly Crabapple

The world cannot allow these atrocities to continue. Please join our global petition calling on President Xi Jinping to release people arbitrarily held in Xinjiang and dismantle the internment camp system.

— Yerulan, former detainee who told Amnesty that guards routinely beat people as they walked to class, and that a man in his class was taken out of class and beaten for not singing a song properly

Amnesty’s latest report on mass violations in Xinjiang is based on first-hand testimonies from former detainees and others present in the region after 2017, as well as analysis of satellite imagery and data.  

From the moment detainees enter a camp, their lives are extraordinarily regimented under “prison-like” conditions. They are subjected to physical and psychological torture and to “political education” classes.

Art: Molly Crabapple

— Aitugan, former internment camp detainee

Detainees reported constant surveillance, 24-hour lighting, and being forced to sit still for hours at a time. They were forbidden to speak to each other or in their own language, or to show any signs of religious practice. Detainees could be violently punished if they broke the rules.We can’t even touch our face, or they would suspect us of praying,” said one former detainee. 

The government has devoted tremendous resources to concealing the truth. It prevents people in Xinjiang from communicating freely about the situation and denies journalists and investigators meaningful access to the region. 

Millions of people in Xinjiang live in constant fear of persecution for practicing their own religion and culture. People living abroad are often unable to obtain information about missing family members in Xinjiang, and many fear they will be detained if they return to China.

Chinese government officials removing religious and cultural artefacts from a Muslim home in Xinjiang, China
Art: Molly Crabapple

The human suffering is immense. We must speak as one voice to end it. 

There are signs of growing international concern. On June 22, following the release of Amnesty’s report, Canada made a statement at the United Nations on behalf of 45 countries regarding evidence of crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.

This sends a crucial message to Chinese authorities that they are not above international scrutiny, but concern must translate into action. An independent, international investigation into human rights violations in Xinjiang is critical.

Art: Molly Crabapple

The world cannot stand by as Muslims in Xinjiang face mass imprisonment, torture and persecution – simply for who they are. Please sign the global petition now and share it with your friends, family and contacts!

You can learn more at Amnesty’s report here or visit our interactive website: “Like We Were Enemies in a War”.