China accused of genocide over forced abortions of Uighur Muslim women as escapees reveal widespread sexual torture
07 October 2019| 08 Safar 1441| Independent
The women have found refuge from Chinese authorities across the border in Kazakhstan, their ancestral homeland. But they remain haunted by the stories of abuse they carry with them.
Some said they were forced to undergo abortions in China’s Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang, others that they had contraceptive devices implanted against their will while in detention.
One reported being raped. Many said they were subjected to sexual humiliation, from being filmed in the shower to having their intimate parts rubbed with chili paste.
The allegations come as China expands a years-long crackdown on its Muslim minority, which includes not only Uighurs but also Kazakhs and other ethnic groups.
While the experiences described could not be independently verified, local rights groups and lawyers say they are common and reveal a wider pattern of abuse directed specifically against women, aimed at curbing their ability to reproduce.
In December 2017, Gulzira Mogdyn, a 38-year-old ethnic Kazakh and Chinese citizen, was detained in Xinjiang after a visit to Kazakhstan because WhatsApp was found on her phone.
She was placed under house arrest and examined by doctors at a nearby clinic, who discovered she was 10 weeks pregnant.
Officials told her she was not allowed to have what would be her fourth child. The following month, Ms Mogdyn said, doctors “cut my foetus out” without using anaesthesia. She still suffers from complications.
“Two humans were lost in this tragedy – my baby and me,” Ms Mogdyn said during an interview on the outskirts of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city.
She received her Kazakh citizenship in July and says that has emboldened her to speak out. She is also pressing Beijing for a response: either financial compensation or, at least, an apology.
Others are still constrained. A Kazakh woman with close relatives remaining in China was forced to undergo two abortions, in 2016 and 2017, while living in Xinjiang, her lawyer said.
Aiman Umarova, a Kazakh human rights advocate and US State Department honouree, said her client is seeking refuge in a Kazakh city and does not wish to be identified for fear of retribution.
Ms Umarova sees the women’s stories as forming a pattern.
“Sexually violating women, including stopping them from reproducing, has become a weapon for China against its Muslim population,” she said.
The US government and human rights groups estimate that between one million and three million Muslims have been detained in Chinese “re-education camps” since 2017, most of them Uighurs.
The Washington Post spoke with two men, including an Australian citizen named Almas Nizamidin, who suspect that their wives, both Uighurs still in detention in Xinjiang, were forced to terminate their pregnancies at a camp in 2017.
Under China’s one-child policy, abortions and contraceptives were encouraged – and often enforced – by officials tasked with keeping the population down. Exceptions were granted for ethnic minorities, who were allowed one more child than Han Chinese.
The policy was abandoned three years ago, but that has not prevented the recent move to curb ethnic populations, said Leta Hong Fincher, a scholar and expert on gender equality in China. “There is a clear tightening of control over the reproductive rights of ethnic minorities,” she said.
In addition to mistreating detained women, rights groups and experts say Beijing has pursued a campaign to erase Muslim culture in Xinjiang, by pushing interethnic marriages and sending Chinese officials for “home stays” with Muslim families, part of efforts by president Xi Jinping’s government to assimilate ethnic minorities.
All of this amounts to genocide as laid out by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, said Rushan Abbas, founder and executive director of the Washington-based Campaign for Uyghurs.