Video reports posted on social media last month describing young women in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) being sent to work in factories under harsh conditions after their release from detention camps have been verified as accurate by RFA’s Uyghur Service.
The video reports, filmed in secret inside China and uploaded to YouTube by Miradil Hesen, a resident of Xinjiang’s Aksu prefecture, highlight abusive labor practices amid growing evidence that internment camps in the XUAR have increasingly transitioned from political indoctrination to forced labor, with detainees being sent to work in cotton and textile factories.
In his videos, Hesen gave detailed accounts of young women and other ethnic Uyghurs from the prefecture’s Uchturpan county who are being forced to work at a local textile mill 12 hours a day, with only one day free each month.
Rooms for workers are provided, but workers must provide their own food, said Hesen, now under arrest in eastern China’s Jiangsu province after being sought by police for downloading Instagram onto his mobile phone and for publishing videos criticizing China over rights abuses.
Salaries drawn by forced laborers in Aksu, who earn only 1,500 yuan per month (U.S. $220.77) are not enough on which to live, and deductions of from 40 to 50 yuan (U.S. $5.89-7.36) are removed from workers’ pay for time taken off for reasons not normally allowed, Hesen said.
Hesen’s accounts in the videos were verified by RFA through telephone interviews in the region.
Hanzohra Seyidehmet and Arzugul Semet—two young women from Uchturpan recently held in internment camps for unspecified offenses under restrictive Chinese laws—are now among those sent to work in Aksu’s Huafu textile factory, according to a local source.
They were allowed to visit with their families for only a day before being sent off to work, a police officer in Uchturpan’s Village No. 6 told RFA’s Uyghur Service in an interview this week, adding that neither woman is working under sentence after being convicted of a crime.
“They were at school. Then they were back at home for a day, and then they were taken to the factory,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity, and possibly referring to their time spent in the camps or to a period of job training required for them to do their work.
Hanzohra, aged around 23, had previously been apprenticed in Ghulja city in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture to learn food production, and “something had happened” after her return home, leading to her confinement in the camps, the officer said.
Arzugul, in her early 20s, had been a tailor. “But someone borrowed her telephone and sent a [politically sensitive] text to someone else,” causing her to be locked up too, he said.
Asked about their salary at the textile factory and how long they would have to work there, the source said he didn’t know.
In videos posted to YouTube between Sept. 2-4 that were briefly accessible to Uyghurs inside China, Hesen slammed the authorities for abuses of his mother, who he said was forced to undergo sterilization that he claimed led to uterine cancer, and gave accounts of forced labor and other abuses in the XUAR.
RFA was able to verify the arrest and some life details of Hesen, who in his videos described himself as the founder of the “Freedom Movement of Uyghurstan” and noted that it is rare for members of his ethnic group to be able to air grievances about the persecution they face in the XUAR under Beijing’s policies.
Heightened scrutiny of the camps
The latest of several cases of forced labor confirmed by RFA follow a year of heightened U.S. scrutiny of Beijing’s sprawling network of camps in the XUAR, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Disclosure Act, which the requires U.S. publicly listed companies to audit supply chains for forced labor. It also directs the Securities and Exchange Commission to require publicly traded companies to disclose imports of manufactured goods and materials derived from forced labor in the XUAR.
"The bill illustrates that effectively combating Uyghur forced labor will inevitably require genuine engagement from American companies. If the companies themselves refuse to act, it's up to our government to compel them to do so.” said Uyghur Human Rights Project Executive Director Omer Kanat in Washington.
That new legislation follows the passage Sept. 22 of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which requires the Secretary of State to determine if imposing forced labor on Uyghurs and other Muslim Turkic groups constitutes crimes against humanity or genocide under U.S. law.
Washington is also taking customs inspection measures to block imports of suspect goods and to sanction and hold to account Chinese officials responsible for human rights violations in the XUAR. The U.S. has warned U.S. firms to ensure supply chains in China do not involve forced labor.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.