Uyghur Tribunal Wraps up With Testimony on Enforced Disappearances, Detentions, And Deaths

More than 30 witnesses and experts testified during the four-day session in London.
By Roseanne Gerin
Uyghur Tribunal Wraps up With Testimony on Enforced Disappearances, Detentions, And Deaths Members of the 'Uyghur Tribunal' view images of what witnesses say are re-education camps in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, on the first day of hearings investigating alleged abuses against Uyghurs in China, in London, June 4, 2021.

Witnesses and experts testified about enforced disappearances, the compulsory sterilization of women and forced contraception, organ harvesting, and torture by Chinese authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) on the final day of a tribunal in London investigating whether China’s treatment of its ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims constitutes genocide.

The nine-member tribunal chaired by prominent British lawyer Geoffrey Nice conducted the first set of hearings known as the “Uyghur Tribunal” on June 4-7 at the headquarters of the Church of England. A second round of hearings will be held on Sept. 10-13.

On Monday, eight voluntary witnesses and experts appeared before the tribunal and its counsel to answer questions based on earlier submitted written testimony and reports.

In all, more than 30 witnesses and experts have provided testimony and appeared before the tribunal, which has no state backing or powers of sanction or enforcement. Any judgments issued are nonbinding on any government.

Wang Leizhang, a Chinese police officer who served in the XUAR in 2018, told the panel that he came to realize that he was serving the interests not of the people but of Beijing in the XUAR.

In his written testimony, Wang said his job duties focused on maintaining social order and national security by investigating anti-separatist movements in the XUAR, where he learned from other police officers about the existence of a committee organized by local authorities that decided who would be sent to the “re-education camps.” The committee also was responsible for the surveillance and monitoring of citizens as well as arrests and detentions of individuals.

“Gradually though my experience, I realized seeing through how the system worked that I wasn’t serving the people,” he said through a translator via videoconference on Monday as he wore his former policeman’s uniform. “I was actually serving the emperor and protecting their power.”

“Therefore, I can say that I’m a patriot to my people, not to the regime — the fascist regime — and how they were ruling the country in a most cruel way,” he added.

Wang left China in 2020 and was granted asylum in Germany, where he now lives.

China has held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of detention camps since 2017. Beijing has said that the camps are vocational training centers or re-education centers and has denied widespread and documented allegations that it has subjected Muslims living in the XUAR to severe rights abuses.

The Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim group estimated at more than 12 million people in the XUAR. Smaller numbers of Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, fellow Turkic speaking people, have also been incarcerated in the camp system.

‘Put on the tiger chair’

Nurisman Abdureshid, a 33-year-old Uyghur who has lived in Turkey since 2015 when she went there to study, told the panel that she had normal contact with her family until June 2017, and later found out that her family members had been disappeared or detained.

Authorities handed down long prison sentences to her mother, father, and young brother for “preparatory terrorist offences” and her mother underwent forced sterilization, she said.

Nurisman went on to say that authorities forced all Uyghur women in her village in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) to undergo pregnancy tests and intrauterine device (IUD) checks, and that her sister-in-law aborted twins out of fear of repercussion from authorities for violating the birth policy.

Mehmut Tevekkül, a 51-year-old Uyghur from the XUAR who fled illegally to Turkey where he now lives, recounted how he had been detained twice in 2009 and 2010 because close relatives had been “detained in 1996 for being religious.”

“I was put on the tiger chair and they whipped my feet with iron wire,” he said in written testimony, describing how he was tortured while in detention. “There [was] a bolt directly above the tiger chair, and the heat from that bolt [was] unbearable” Tiger chairs are metal chairs that immobilize suspects during interrogations.

Mehmut told how a Chinese official had confiscated farmland from 70-80 Uyghur families in his town in Kargilik (Yecheng) county in Kashgar prefecture for not following orders, and had given the land to Chinese migrants.

The official, Zhu Hailun, “murdered so many people in our county, he took around 50 to 60, and in some villages 70 Uyghurs,” he said. “Very few were released. A large number of them were returned dead.”

In September 2008, a neighbor and his uncle’s eldest son were taken away in a group of 11 Uyghurs, and both later turned up dead, Mehmut said.

Ethan Gutmann of the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China, discussed findings from his December 2020 report alleging that China has forced organ harvesting in the XUAR from political and religious prisoners beginning with the Uyghurs in the 1990s and satellite images of crematoriums built close to “re-education camps” where bodies could be burned after operations to remove organs.

He testified that about 20 witnesses all from different camps in the XUAR told him that Uyghurs from whom organs were harvested were all approximately 28 years old, and that the financial return on a body with usable organs totaled U.S. $500,000-750,000.

Birth prevention policies

Adrian Zenz, an independent researcher with the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, testified Monday about China’s policy to reduce the natural population growth in southern XUAR.

His latest report, issued Monday, indicates that Chinese policies could result in a large drop in births among Uyghurs of 2.6 million to 4.5 million by 2040, based on population projections by Chinese researchers.

The analysis by the German researcher, who has published a number of reports on forced labor and abortion in the XUAR, may meet the test for genocide by presenting empirical evidence that the Uyghurs are being destroyed as a people.

It is unlikely that the Chinese will eliminate all the Uyghurs through birth prevention policies, though, Zenz told the panel.

“The goal is to cut them drastically, substantially, especially in order to manage their identity and who they are for assimilation,” he said.

Beijing has denounced the tribunal and smeared its participants, saying it is being “funded by the World Uyghur Congress, an organization dedicated to separating Xinjiang from China.” The WUC is an international organization based in Munich, Germany, that represents the collective interests of Uyghurs in the XUAR and abroad.

A statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in the UK on Saturday said that the tribunal was “neither legal nor credible,” repeating a statement made Thursday by China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin in Beijing.

“It is just another anti-China farce concocted by a few individuals with the end goal of using Xinjiang to contain China. The Chinese side is firmly opposed to it,” the statement said.

When asked about Zenz’s finding in his latest report, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Monday that China had “debunked how Adrian Zenz spread lies and rumors on Xinjiang to smear and attack China in various despicable ways.”

“People with vision and media agencies and experts across the world have all pointed out that the reports by Zenz, filled with bias and smears against China, have zero academic value,” said Wang. “He’s nothing but a fake academic with a bankrupt reputation who is being sued by relevant companies in Xinjiang. His so-called reports are by no means to be trusted.”

The U.S. State Department — as well as parliaments in Canada, the Netherlands, the UK, and Lithuania — have described China’s actions in the region as “genocide,” while the New York-based group Human Rights Watch says they constitute crimes against humanity. The Italian parliament voted unanimously last week to condemn Chinese atrocities against Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples.

The Uyghur Tribunal is expected to issue a final verdict in December on whether China is committing genocide or crimes against humanity in the XUAR.


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