Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule. Sources say detainees routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers in the camps and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities. China initial denial that the camps exist has in the face of tide of evidence shifted to the claim that the facilities provide vocational training to grateful Uyghurs, and XUAR authorities have grafted an amendment onto counter-terrorism legislation in a largely unsuccessful effort to portray the camp system as legal. An officer at a police station in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service about the conditions at a camp where he worked as a guard for 10 months. In the second part of the interview, the officer—who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal—describes the stern regimen detainees must follow in one camp.
RFA: You said the ground floor is offices, what is the function of the offices?
Officer: There is the headmaster’s office, the archives office where every detainee’s files are kept, which record everyone’s personal details such as where they come from, and why they have been brought to the center. There are also CCTV central control room where they observe all the dormitories, outside areas and every corner of the center, and there is a warehouse.
RFA: What is in the warehouse?
Officer: All the required supplies, such as quilts and mattresses, toothpaste and toothbrushes, clothes etc.
RFA: What time do the “detainees” get up in the morning?
Officer: They get up at 6:30 am, fold their bedding to a military standard, go to the toilet and wash. By then we start to distribute food to each room, and they have to sing songs while waiting.”
RFA: What songs do they sing before the food arrives?
Officer: There are four songs, one of which is “There is no New China Without the Communist Party," also the National Anthem, but I have forgotten the titles of the other two.
RFA: Do they sing all four songs at once?
Officer: No, they sing the song led by the roommate who is the appointed leader.
RFA: What is the first thing they do when they arrive in the classroom?
Officer: They recite four-line quotes by Xi Jinping.
RFA: Do you remember any lines from Xi Jinping’s quote?
Officer: No, I have forgotten them.
RFA: What about after finishing their 4-hour lessons, do they also have to recite or sing songs?
Officer: After they return to their rooms, and before food is distributed, there is music played from the central control room through their speakers and they must participate in singing the songs.
RFA: Before every meal they must listen to the National Anthem, is that right?
RFA: What time do they finish their afternoon lessons?
Officer: At 6:00 pm.
RFA: What time is their supper?
RFA: They go to bed at 10 pm, and their movements are observed all the time?
RFA: For example, can they talk to one another while going to the canteen?
Officer: They are not allowed to go to the canteen, so food is distributed to their rooms.
RFA: Who distributes the food?
Officer: The cadres, teachers and police officers.
RFA: Do they have toilets in every room or on each floor?
Officer: In every dormitory there is a toilet.
RFA: When they go to the toilet, do they have to ask for permission?
Officer: They must ask for permission.
RFA: From who do they ask permission, from someone in the room or a police officer?
Officer: They will raise their hand looking at the camera, we will then give them permission.
RFA: How long are they allowed to be in the toilet?
Officer: A maximum of five minutes, if it is over five minutes, the room leader would inform us, we will then deal with it according to the individual’s situation.
RFA: Are you able to observe inside the toilet with the cameras?
Officer: Yes, we can observe the toilet with cameras as well.
RFA: When it is time for their class do they go on their own or do you tell them to go?
Officer: We escort them one class at a time.
RFA: So that means, they cannot go to the class on their own, and you have go to the dormitory and escort them to the class, one class at a time?
Officer: Yes. We open the door for them tell them to go to their class, there are police officers at the door of the dormitory and the classroom, there is a lined passageway which they must walk within and not close to the walls.
RFA: How long does it take for you to take the detainees from their dormitories to the classrooms?
Officer: It takes approximately 20 minutes to complete each floor.
RFA: What are you required to do? And what precautions must you take?
Officer: When the police enter the student zone, they must wear steel helmet, bullet proof wests, and they must have their police baton in their hands. It is a mandatory order that police officers cannot enter the student zone unarmed.
RFA: So when police enter the area where there are detainees, they must have police baton and carry guns, is that correct?
Officer: The assistant police do not have guns but carry batons, when the detainees are escorted to their classrooms, the armed police officers stand in the cadres' zone holding their weapons pointing in the direction of the detainees, there is a metal barrier between the cadre's zone and the student zone.
RFA: Do assistant police wear a helmet?
Officer: Yes, a helmet and a bullet proof vest.
RFA: From whom are they protecting themselves by wearing helmets and bulletproof vests, when the detainees don't have anything to attack them with?
Officer: When we take detainees to their class, there is normally 30 of them, if one person starts a disturbance, and the others join in, they would be 30 of them and we are only 12. Of which 10 of us only carry police baton, that means there is three against one, and if our batons are taken from us in the skirmish and the police officers open fire, our helmet and body armor will protect us.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur and translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service.