Uighur women fleeing Xinjiang detention camps say they were victims of systemic rape: BBC report

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Ethnic Uighur demonstrators take part in a protest against China, in Istanbul, Turkey October 1, 2020.

  • Several women told the BBC there was systemic rape inside China’s detention centers for Uighurs. 
  • The stories follow other reports of physical, sexual, and mental abuse inside the camps. 
  • China has repeatedly denied any abuse and said the facilities were “re-education centers.” 
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Women who fled detention camps in Xinjiang gave several accounts of systemic rape inside the centers, the BBC reported. 

Tursunay Ziawudun, who spent nine months in the detention centers before eventually fleeing to the US, told the BBC that women were taken from their cells “every night” and raped. 

“Perhaps this is the most unforgettable scar on me forever,” she told the BBC. Ziawudun said she was gang-raped three times.

She said men would select women they wanted from the cells, and have them taken to a dark room where there were no security cameras. She said the men wore masks even before the pandemic. 

In May 2018, Ziawudun said she and a cellmate were taken out and shown to a Chinese man. Her cellmate was taken into one room, where she could be heard screaming, according to Ziawudun’s account to the BBC. Ziawudun said she was sent to the “dark room” – even after the man was told she was having medical issues and bleeding. There Ziawudun told the BBC: “They had an electric stick, I didn’t know what it was, and it was pushed inside my genital tract, torturing me with an electric shock.”

The BBC could not completely verify Ziawudun’s story but reviewed travel documents and immigration records that corroborate the timeline of her story; her description of the camp matched satellite images, and her description of the treatment inside the camps matched those told by former detainees. 

Gulzira Auelkhan, a Kazakh woman who was detained for 18 months in the camps told the BBC that she was forced to strip the Uighur women naked and handcuff them. After the Chinese men left them, she would clean the room. 

“Then I would leave the women in the room and a man would enter – some Chinese man from outside or policeman. I sat silently next to the door, and when the man left the room I took the woman for a shower,” Auelkhan said. 

In recent years, the Chinese Communist Party constructed hundreds of prisons and detention centers in Xinjiang and the surrounding region, where the predominantly Muslim Turkic minority group lives. At least one million Uighurs have been detained in these camps. 

Previous reports from the camps have alleged that detainees were forced to consume forbidden foods in Islammass surveillance, and dealt with various other forms of psychological and physical torture.

Chinese officials have repeatedly denied any abuse and claimed the camps were for re-education and to prevent extremism. 

“The Chinese government protects the rights and interests of all ethnic minorities equally,” a spokeswoman told the BBC.

Adrian Zenz, an expert on China’s policies in Xinjiang told the BBC that the recent accounts provide “authoritative and detailed evidence of sexual abuse and torture at a level clearly greater than what we had assumed.”

Previous reports have also shown that Uighur women were forcibly sterilized and given unwanted abortions as part of China’s campaign to keep Muslim minorities’ birth rate down.

Uighurs in Xinjiang, including some in detention camps, have also been moved across China to forcibly work in factories, a report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found. 

A December Center for Global Policy report found that in 2018, at least 570,000 people belonging to ethnic minority groups in Uighur regions were sent to pick cotton. 

Last month, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called China’s actions towards the Uighurs tantamount to genocide.

On January 19, Pompeo said “we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state” in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang.

Read the full story at the BBC »

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Twitter blocks ‘dehumanizing’ Chinese Embassy tweet claiming Uighur women are no longer ‘baby-making machines’

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A woman holds a placard during a London protest in support of Uighur people over ongoing human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region on October 08, 2020.

  • On Thursday, the Chinese Embassy in the US posted a tweet claiming that Uighur women were no longer “baby-making machines” because of the eradication of extremism.
  • Twitter removed it on Saturday morning for violating rules against “the dehumanization of a group of people,” according to Ars Technica.
  • The tweet was linked to an article, published by the Chinese Communist Party, that celebrated the decline in birth rates in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of northwestern China.
  • China has been accused of using inhumane birth control practices on Uighur women. Forced abortions, sterilization, and unwanted IUDs are “widespread and systematic” practices, according to the AP.
  • Sens. Tom Cotton and Rick Scott had condemned the tweet. A number of other politicians criticized it and urged Twitter to take it down.
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On Saturday morning, a tweet posted by the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC was removed by Twitter for violating the platform’s rules against dehumanization.

The tweet, posted on Thursday, drew widespread condemnation for claiming that Uighur women have had their minds “emancipated” and are no longer “baby-making machines.”

“We prohibit the dehumanization of a group of people based on their religion, race, or ethnicity, among other categories,” a Twitter spokesperson told Ars Technica.

The post read: “Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines. They are more confident and independent.”

The tweet linked to an article published by China Daily – the Chinese Communist Party’s English-language newspaper.

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The now-deleted tweet by the Chinese Embassy in the US.

The article claims that a decrease in birthrates in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in 2018 resulted from “the eradication of religious extremism.” It also refers to “family planning policies” being implemented in the region.

The Uighurs are a mostly-Muslim minority group in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of northwestern China. Estimates suggest that at least one million of them could be interned in so-called ‘re-education camps,’ according to Foreign Policy.

China has been accused of reducing the birth rate of Uighur women by using inhumane practices, such as force-feeding birth control pills. The practice is “widespread and systematic,” according to an AP investigation.

Uighur women are regularly subjected to pregnancy checks, unwanted IUD devices, forced abortions, and sterilization, the news agency also reported.

The article’s implication that Uighur women are now more “confident and independent” was condemned by several high profile figures.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted that it is a reminder that China is “an evil pariah state.”

Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida referred to China’s treatment of the Uighurs as “a genocide” and said that “propaganda can’t hide their crimes.” He had urged Twitter to censor the tweet.

Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida’s 6th congressional district called it “genocidal.” Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado’s 4th congressional district called it “sickening.”

 

Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the UK’s Conservative Party, wrote: “How disgusting of the US Chinese Embassy to attempt to justify the progressive eradication of the Uyghur people.”

Other British MPs also expressed their disgust at the tweet.

Azis Isa Elkun, a Uighur Muslim academic, explained to Business Insider: “The Chinese Embassy’s tweet was, of course, trying to deceive the Western world.”

Isa Elkun continued: “The Chinese state is committing genocide on Uighurs. The Western world must act now and keep the promises of ‘never again.’ It must hold China accountable for the Uighur genocide before it’s too late.”

Despite the widespread condemnation, Twitter had originally told Ars Technica that it did not violate its policies against hateful conduct.

Although the Chinese Embassy tweet has since been removed, the article remains on China Daily’s Twitter feed.

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Apple knew a supplier was using child labor but took 3 years to fully cut ties, despite the company’s promises to hold itself to the ‘highest standards,’ report says

Apple CEO Tim Cook in China, March 2019
  • Apple discovered that Suyin Electronics, one of its Chinese-based suppliers, relied on child labor on multiple occasions, but still took three years to fully cut ties, The Information reported on Thursday.
  • Ten former members of Apple’s supplier responsibility team told The Information the company has refused or has been slow to stop doing business with suppliers that repeatedly violate its labor policies when doing so would hurt its profits. 
  • Apple has faced intense criticism recently amid reports that it relies on forced Uyghur labor and protests over poor working conditions and wage theft by workers that make its products.
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Apple is back under the spotlight over labor conditions in its supply chain following an explosive report from The Information on Thursday that revealed new details about the company’s reluctance to cut ties with suppliers who violate its ethics policies.

According to the report, Apple learned in 2013 that Suyin Electronics, a China-based company that (at the time) made parts for its MacBooks, was employing underage workers, and despite telling Suyin to address the issue or risk losing business, Apple discovered additional workers as young as 14 years old during an audit just three months later.

But rather than immediately cutting ties with Suyin for violating its supply chain ethics policies – which prohibit child labor and which Apple claims are the “highest standards” – Apple continued to rely on the company for more than three years, according to The Information.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment on this story. Suyin could not be reached for comment.

Ten former members of Apple’s supplier responsibility team told The Information that Suyin wasn’t an isolated incident, and that Apple had refused or was slow to stop doing business with suppliers that had repeatedly violated labor laws or failed to improve workplace safety when it would have cut into its profits.

Apple similarly refused to cut ties with Biel Crystal, one of its two suppliers of glass iPhone screens – despite a consistently poor workplace safety record, Apple employees’ own concerns, and Biel executives explicitly admitting that improving safety wasn’t worth it because doing so had actually led to less business from Apple – because cutting ties would have left Apple with less financial leverage over its remaining supplier, Lens Technology, according to The Information.

Biel did not respond to a request for comment.

In an illustration of just how intertwined Apple has become with unethical labor practices, The Washington Post reported earlier this week that Lens Technology itself relies on forced labor from thousands of Uyghurs that the Chinese government has displaced from their homes in Xinjiang.

While US lawmakers have proposed legislation aimed on curbing American companies’ ability to use forced Uyghur labor, Apple sought to weaken the bill, The New York Times reported last month. (Apple took issue with that claim, telling The Times that it “did not lobby against” the bill but rather had “constructive discussions” with congressional staffers).

Apple has long been criticized over the labor practices of its suppliers, particularly in China but increasingly in other countries including India, where workers at an iPhone factory rioted after accusing management of withholding their pay.

In November, Apple was also forced to cut ties with its second-largest iPhone manufacturer, Pegatron, after discovering the company had violated labor laws by relying on “student workers” who were in practice doing work that had nothing to do with their degrees.

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Huawei reportedly worked with 4 additional companies to build surveillance tools that track people by ethnicity, following recent revelations that it tested a ‘Uighur alarm’

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  • Huawei has worked with at least four partner companies to develop surveillance technologies that claim to monitor people by ethnicity, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
  • Last week, The Post reported that Huawei in 2018 had tested a “Uighur alarm” — an AI facial recognition tool that claimed to identify members of the largely Muslim minority group and alert Chinese authorities.
  • Huawei told the The Post that the tool was “simply a test,” but according to Saturday’s report, Huawei has developed multiple such tools.
  • The reports add to growing concern over China’s extensive surveillance and oppression of Uyghurs and other minority groups, as well as increasing use of racially discriminatory surveillance tools and practices by US law enforcement.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Huawei tested an AI-powered facial-recognition technology that could trigger a “Uighur alarm” for Chinese authorities when it identified a person from the persecuted minority group in 2018, The Washington Post reported last week.

At the time, Huawei spokesperson Glenn Schloss told The Post that the tool was “simply a test and it has not seen real-world application.”

But a new investigation published by The Post on Saturday found that Huawei has worked with dozens of security firms to build surveillance tools – and that products it developed in partnership with four of those companies claimed to be able to identify and monitor people based on their ethnicity.

Documents publicly available on Huawei’s website detailed the capabilities of those ethnicity-tracking tools as well as more than 2,000 product collaborations, according to The Post. The publication also reported that after it contacted Huawei, the company took the website offline temporarily before restoring the site with only 38 products listed.

FILE PHOTO: Huawei headquarters building is pictured in Reading, Britain July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Matthew Childs/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Huawei headquarters building is pictured in Reading

“Huawei opposes discrimination of all types, including the use of technology to carry out ethnic discrimination,” a Huawei spokesperson told Business Insider. “We provide general-purpose ICT [information and communication technology] products based on recognized industry standards.”

“We do not develop or sell systems that identify people by their ethnic group, and we do not condone the use of our technologies to discriminate against or oppress members of any community,” the spokesperson continued. “We take the allegations in the Washington Post’s article very seriously and are investigating the issues raised within.”

Huawei worked with Beijing Xintiandi Information Technology, DeepGlint, Bresee, and Maiyuesoft on products that made a variety of claims about estimating, tracking, and visualizing people’s ethnicities, as well as other Chinese tech companies on tools to suppress citizens’ complaints about wrongdoing by local government officials and analyze “voiceprint” data, according to The Post.

Beijing Xintiandi Information Technology, DeepGlint, Bresee, and Maiyuesoft could not be reached for comment.

Human rights groups, media reports, and other independent researchers have extensively documented China’s mass surveillance and detainment of as many as one million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minority groups in internment camps, where reports allege they are subjected to torturesexual abuse, and forced labor for little or no pay.

To help it build the surveillance apparatus that enables such widespread detainment, the Chinese government has at times turned to the country’s technology firms.

“This is not one isolated company. This is systematic,” John Honovich, the founder of IPVM, a research group that first discovered the 2018 test, told The Post. He added that “a lot of thought went into making sure this ‘Uighur alarm’ works.”

In October 2019, the US Commerce Department blacklisted 28 Chinese government agencies and tech companies including China’s five “AI champions” – Hikvision, Dahua, SenseTime, Megvii, and iFlytek – on its banned “entity list,” thus preventing US firms from exporting certain technologies to them.

Still, some of those blacklisted companies have managed to continue exporting their technologies to Western countries, and BuzzFeed News reported last year that US tech firms, including Amazon, Apple, and Google, have continued selling those companies’ products to US consumers via online marketplaces.

In the US, law enforcement agencies and even schools have also increased their reliance on facial recognition software and other AI-powered surveillance technologies, despite growing evidence that such tools exhibit racial and gender bias.

But recent pushback from activists, tech ethicists, and employees has pushed some tech companies to temporarily stop selling facial recognition tools to law enforcement, and some US cities have issued moratoriums on their use, highlighting some divides between approaches to policing in the US and China.

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