Database Entry: “Like We Were Enemies in a War": China's Mass Internment, Torture, and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang
Internment Forced Labor

“Like We Were Enemies in a War": China's Mass Internment, Torture, and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang

June 11, 2021
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Aiman, a government cadre who assigned scores to families in her village, told Amnesty how cadres also scored family members of people in internment camps and said that family members were told that if they went to work in specific factories or attended Chinese language classes it would increase their scores. Although Aiman was personally sceptical that detainees were ever released early because of good behaviour by their family members, she was instructed to inform family that it could. Moreover, according to Aiman, when men were sent to camps, authorities would pressure their wives to work in factories:
If [a woman] refused, then they threatened that her husband’s situation would be worse… Under my supervision there were [a few dozen] women who were taken to factories like this. Many of them also had no choice because they needed the money [since their family lost income when their husband was sent to a camp camp].

Amnesty International interviewed 11 former detainees who were transferred to different types of labour after their release from a camp, including three who were sent to work in factories. A few were sent to work in village administration offices, police stations, or other government buildings, where they often performed menial tasks. One was sent to work on a state-owned farm and one was made to do chores by cadres for a Han Chinese man in the village. One person was made to work as a guard in an internment camps after being detained. “They told me I could be free if I worked as a security guard at a camp,” Anarbek said.

Arzu told Amnesty that after spending six months in one camp he was transferred to another camp, where he was taught to sew in preparation for being sent to a factory. He was then required to live and work in a factory for several months making government uniforms.

During the day [at the second camp] we would sit on a plastic chair. A teacher taught language and how to make clothes. During the 21 days [we spent in the second camp] we went to class two or three times, otherwise we were just in the cell… The teachers from the screen were in [a different] class. They just showed us how to make clothes on the TV. Some guys were there [in this camp] for two years and never touched a machine… Then a list came out for people to transfer to a factory. Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Uzbeks, not Uyghurs… Then I was sent to a factory for five months, to make government uniforms at first. Then we started making dresses. I worked for eight hours a day. I had one hour of exercise in the yard… I was allowed to call family and friends, but not people abroad… There was no physical inspection, but we were given phones and asked to install a police app… We worked five days a week. The salary was 1,620 RMB [253 USD] a month… We were really ineffective. We didn’t know how to do it. They had some Chinese woman come in for one week to try to teach us.

Aldiyar told Amnesty he spent three months working in a factory for low pay after being released from the camp. All workers were members of ethnic minorities but senior managers were Han Chinese:

[After I was released from the camp] they ordered me not to leave my house for 10 days… After a week they called me back and they registered me and made a list of people who had been in the camp. Then they gathered all the people on the list, and we went to a garment factory. We didn’t have a choice but to go there… The salary was low. It was impossible to take care of my family with the salary. The first month [we were paid] 200 RMB [31 USD]… The factory was on the outskirts of [redacted] county seat. Only ethnic minorities were working in the factory – Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Hui. The [only] Han were the heads of the factory… The factory made clothes, gloves, and bags.

The three former detainees who provided Amnesty with accounts of being sent to work in factories after being released from detention were all ultimately able to leave those factories. This was because of a policy that allowed factory workers to return to their homes if they had secured another job and if another employer was willing to sign a letter of guarantee taking responsibility for them. Aldiyar was permitted to leave the factory at night because he lived nearby, although other people were required to live there. Every week Aldiyar had to submit a written report of what he did [to the village administration].
I was at the factory for three months. After three months, I asked if I could do my old profession. They said, ‘Okay, but you need to get a letter from your work saying that they are taking responsibility for you and to give the address of the head of your workplace’… I got the paper [signed] and went back to [the place I used to work] after I finished [high] school.

Ibrahim told Amnesty he worked and lived in a factory for two weeks after being released from a camp. Some other workers in the factory had not been sent from camps; rather, they had been pressured to work in the factory when another member of their family was taken to a camp:
They took us [to the factory]… There were many buildings and many people… I had to go to the third floor… They taught us how to sew clothes. And while we were having lunch I spoke with women and girls [who worked there] and learned that those women’s husbands or girls’ fathers were in a camp. That was why they were taken there. I learned that if one family [member] was in a camp you had to work so the father or husband can get out quickly… I worked there for [some] days…. I had been a businessman before. I explained that and they let me go… The name of the factory was [redacted]… it was in the county seat… it was a linen factory… we produced clothes.