A Chinese defector has revealed to Sky News how Uyghur detainees are transported in their hundreds on packed prison trains, along with details of torture and deaths inside re-education centres in Xinjiang.
The man, who says he served as a police officer in Xinjiang and asked only to be identified by the name Jiang, told Sky News of the grim conditions on board the trains.
“We gather them together, put hoods on their head, two people handcuffed together, to prevent them from escaping,” he told Sky News.
Whistleblower Jiang says that freight trains were used to transport Uyghurs who had travelled to other parts of China back to Xinjiang
Jiang said that freight trains were used to transport Uyghurs who had travelled to other parts of China back to Xinjiang.
Some 500 detainees would be transported at a time from freight stations, with more than 100 prisoners to each carriage, he said. Two policemen would be assigned to each prisoner.
“During the train transportation we do not give them food,” he said.
“Only bottle caps are allowed to be used for drinking water.
A former member of the Public Security Bureau recalls methods of torture and ill-treatment being used in a detention camp in Xinjiang.
“They are only allowed bottle caps to drink water – to moisten their lips.
“To keep order, we don’t let them go to the toilet.
“They reach their destinations in two days. They reach Xinjiang.”
Who are the Uyghur people and why do they face oppression by China?
The Uyghurs are a group of people – mostly Muslim – who live mainly in the Xinjiang area of China.
They have been living there for at least several hundred years.
China has been accused of interning up to one million Uyghurs in “re-education” centres in Xinjiang and increasing the number of non-Uyghurs in the region, so the proportion of Uyghurs there is declining.
In April, MPs in the UK declared that Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in China’s Xinjiang region are being subjected to genocide.
China denies all allegations of human rights abuses.
Read more: Who are the Uyghur people and why do they face oppression by China?
Drone footage released in 2019 showed apparently Uyghur prisoners being unloaded from a train – blindfolded and shackled, their heads shaved.
Jiang said that the most likely showed prisoners being transferred from various detention centres to a larger central facility, because of their different uniforms.
Jiang told Sky News he had served as a soldier before working as a detective in a local Public Security Bureau.
He proed extensive documentation of his credentials, including pictures, s, police graduation and registration certificates, and other official documents. The specific details he alleged are impossible to verify.
At a press conference in Beijing, Sky News asked the Chinese government about Jiang’s allegations.
Jiang says brutal tactics were routinely used by police and guards inside the camps
Elijan Anayat, a spokesperson for the Xinjiang government, said: “China is a country ruled by law. Police act and handle crimes in accordance with relevant PRC laws. It’s forbidden to imprison people illegally and torture people to coerce a statement.
“Police must protect all the suspect’s rights. So the things said by the man that officials didn’t let them go to toilets and that they had no water to drink, and so on, do not exist.
“The training centres operate in accordance with PRC’s laws and the human rights protection law. They fully ensure fully rights and protect their dignity. It’s forbidden to insult or treat students badly by any means. The things said by the so-called local policeman could not happen.”
Uyghurs are allegedly trampled on inside the centres
The Chinese government has previously described accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang as “the lie of the century” and insisted that people in Xinjiang live happy lives.
Jiang’s testimony contradicts that. Eence from those who worked for the Chinese state in Xinjiang is extremely rare.
He described the brutal tactics used by police and camp guards.
“In cases related to politics, jeopardising the regime, cases involving overthrowing the regime – you’re allowed to beat people,” he told Sky News. “It’s ok, to make them turn in other people’s names.”
“You use various methods to put pressure; two people use sticks to weigh down their legs; tie him up and trample their arm; shackle their hands, pour cold water – put a water pipe into their mouth and tie them up,” he added.
Analysis by Tom Cheshire, Asia correspondent
Over the past few years, we have heard distressing and vi accounts of Xinjiang’s re-education centres from those who say they were detained there. Jiang’s testimony is rare because it tells of the same experience from the other side – the people who put them there.
That rarity itself is striking. The campaign in Xinjiang required a huge security apparatus – Jiang told us that 150,000 people were recruited just to patrol streets in the region. But eence from those who served the system is few and far between.
And some of that loyalty is reflected in Jiang’s account. At no point did he question the premise of the detention campaign – his criticism is how it was conducted. He draws a distinction between those sent to re-education centres and those formally sentenced to prison, arguing that the latter were truly guilty of crimes. Even as he denounces the state, he accepts its rationale.
The Chinese government’s denial of Jiang’s allegations is unequivocal – “they could not happen”.
And the situation in Xinjiang has certainly changed. As the Associated Press recently reported, “Chinese authorities have scaled back many of the most draconian and visible aspects of the region’s high-tech police state.” That tallies with a visit this year that Sky News made to Hotan in Xinjiang – the city was noticeably more lively than it was on a reporting trip two years earlier.
But the full picture of the tactics used when the detention campaign was at its height is still emerging.
“How to say, under this kind of management in the re-education centre, beating somebody to death, for sure, it happens.”
“If accidents occur, it’s normal that some people die. That’s just how you get used to saying it. Please do not blame me.
“They don’t see ordinary people as human beings. They do things that you don’t do to human beings.”
Jiang said he usually worked in criminal investigation departments elsewhere in China but was dispatched to Xinjiang as part of an “Aid Xinjiang” programme which involved tens of thousands of armed police and ordinary officers being transferred to the region.
June: How China is erasing Uyghur cemeteries
He told Sky News that Xinjiang “was in a state of wartime control” when he was posted there in 2018.
“When I got there, more than 900,000 people had already been detained for numerous petty reasons like saying something wrong. They had been sent to the re-education centres to be controlled.”
“We detained them on orders from the superiors. Not on any eence. What kind of eence can we have? What kind of eence does this need?”
He said that people in Xinjiang lived under constant surveillance, physically and digitally.
Grounds for suspicion and detention included differing opinions on the government, appealing to higher authorities for help, or even not selling alcohol and cigarettes, he said – all could be considered “ideological issues” justifying re-education.
Jiang says that people in Xinjiang live under constant surveillance
Jiang drew a distinction between those sentenced to prison and those sent to re-education centres.
“Those who actually contacted other people and planned to rebel, they can be sentenced.
“But in people in the re-education centres are not severe enough to be sentenced.
“They have problems with their thoughts.”
Jiang also said that prisons and re-education centres both contained factories.
“They do different things which can make money, but nobody wants to do,” he said.
June: Uyghur torture victim: I was chained for 4 months
“If one official says that they need to work nine hours, the head of the re-education centre might think, if I make them work two hours more, I can make more money.”
Jiang left China in 2020. He said he was already disillusioned by Communist rule before he arrived in Xinjiang.
He said: “The leadership says very good things on stage: ‘I’ll serve the people! Let’s do our best!’ But offstage, in reality – corruption. They accept bribes every day, they corrupt state property. It’s reached a degree you can’t imagine.”
“My values collapsed. One’s values about what is right and what is wrong.
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“It’s not betraying the motherland, I’m just against the corrupted class.
“I’m not afraid of the danger. I have seen much life and much death. I have seen many dead people. It’s a way for me to free myself.”