By Annisa Essack
By definition, “oppression” means “prolonged, unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power. Oppression is exercised in multiple ways, ranging from subtle comments to murder. It is a tool wielded throughout human history by those with power and authority to keep those with less power in a position of submission, and it continues today throughout the world.
Recently, a confidential report by the German Foreign Ministry about Xinjiang’s transformation through education camps was leaked to German media. The leak revealed, once again, that China’s claims about the camps being simply “vocational schools,” they are in fact horrific jails where, in addition to torture and extra-judicial killing, sexual abuse of female inmates is regularly reported.
This was not an isolated case of sexual abuse being reported as a few days earlier, The New York Times published a feature article in which ethnic Kazakhs and Uyghurs who had escaped there from the camps in Xinjiang spoke of the atrocities faced by the inmates of the so-called “vocational schools.” The female Times reporter also encountered reports of sexual abuse.
Are these accounts believable? Rape as part of China’s “re-education” is not new. Tibetans have long complained that it also exists in the “transformation through education camps” in Tibet. Not surprisingly, the same horrible accounts come from Tibet as they do from Xinjiang.
In 2018, the highly respected Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy published an account of a Buddhist monk who had been detained in the transformation through education camp in Sog County, Nagchu Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region. Both laypersons and monks and nuns were incarcerated there and had to endure exhausting military drills and were compelled to denounce the Dalai Lama.
The monk reported that after the military drills the women, particularly the Buddhist nuns, were abused and raped taking advantage of their exhaustion. Male and female inmates who tried to protest were severely punished. The monk reported that they were hit so badly “with electric batons that they would lose consciousness.
Rape is not only a way to satisfy the prison guards’ lust but is in its own way a tool for re-education, as once “defiled” Buddhist nuns do not feel they can return to the monasteries and continue with their monastic life.
Other female prisoners of conscience from banned religious groups are also raped. There is more than one sign that Muslim women in Xinjiang are becoming the next victims of the same policy.