Hour upon hour, day upon day, Omir Bekali and other detainees in far western China’s new indoctrination camps had to disavow their Islamic beliefs, criticise themselves and their loved ones and give thanks to the ruling Communist Party.
When Bekali, a Kazakh Muslim, refused to follow orders each day, he was forced to stand at a wall for five hours at a time. A week later, he was sent to solitary confinement, where he was deprived of food for 24 hours. After 20 days in the heavily guarded camp, he wanted to kill himself.
In the past year, Chinese authorities in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang have ensnared tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Muslim Chinese – and even foreign citizens – in mass internment camps. This detention campaign has swept across Xinjiang, a territory half the area of India, leading to what a US commission on China last month said is “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today”.