Uyghur detainees from internment camps in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are being secretly transferred to prisons in Henan province, in addition to other parts of the country, according to sources.
In October last year, RFA’s Uyghur Service reported that authorities in the XUAR had begun covertly sending detainees to prisons in Heilongjiang province and other parts of China to address an “overflow” in overcrowded camps, where up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been held since April 2017.
And in recent months, RFA spoke to officials in Shandong, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces, who confirmed that Uyghur and other Muslim detainees from the XUAR had been sent to prisons there, although they were unable to provide specific numbers or dates for when they had been transferred.
As global condemnation over the camp network has grown, including calls for international observers to be allowed into the XUAR to investigate the situation there, reports suggest that authorities may be transferring detainees to other parts of China as part of a bid to obfuscate the scale of detentions of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the region.
While investigating the transfer of detainees, RFA’s Uyghur Service spoke with a former internee at a facility in the XUAR’s Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture named Memettursun Osman, who said that several of his cellmates were taken to Henan, often in twos or threes.
“Some people among us received orders to be transferred to Henan,” he said, including an imam who was being held with him in May 2017.
“If you received the order, you would be transferred immediately—within two hours or by the following morning, at the latest. [The imam’s] name was Ablimit Abudumijit, a man in his 50s. He was given his orders in our presence and taken away two hours later.”
Osman said that authorities would “always take people out in twos or threes.”
“When I was brought in, there were about 64 people in my cell, but they were always taking people out,” he said.
“After I arrived, seven or eight people were given orders to be transferred to either Henan or Gansu. Form what I learned, Chinese police moved most of the inmates with sentences of more than 15 years to Henan and other parts of the country. They started doing this very early on, not just after reports of the camps came out in 2017.”
Osman said he had seen printed orders given to inmates that said they were being sent to Henan.
“When you are called, you show [the guard] your order and leave the cell. The paper was similar to a court order and were given out in front of everyone,” he said.
“The orders were written in Chinese—there was no effort to try to conceal it.”