Teacher Testifies Uyghurs Treated 'Less Than Dogs' by Guards in Chinese Camps

Qelbinur Sidik, a teacher who was the first witness to testify against China regarding its alleged abuse of the Uyghur people, said guards would humiliate inmates at a camp for men in Xinjiang where she taught Mandarin, the Associated Press reported.

"Guard in the camp did not treat the prisoners as human beings. They were treated less than dogs," she said. "The things that I have witnessed and experienced, I can't forget."

Beijing strictly rejected the allegations, claiming the camps were vocational training centers to teach language, job skills and the law but that the camps are now closed.

A tribunal, made up of lawyers, academics and business people, set up to assess whether China's alleged rights abuses against the Uyghur people constitute genocide, opened Friday in London.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Britain Uyghur Tribunal June 2021
Witness Qelbinur Sidik shows a picture purported to be of a detention camp to the panel of the independent Uyghur Tribunal during the first session of the hearings in London on June 4, 2021. In June 2020, Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, formally requested that Geoffrey Nice establish and chair an independent people's tribunal to investigate alleged atrocities and possible genocide against the Uyghur people. Alberto Pezzali/Associated Press

The tribunal does not have U.K. government backing and has no powers to sanction or punish China. But organizers hope the process of publicly laying out evidence will compel international action to tackle alleged abuses against the Uyghurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group.

Chairperson Geoffrey Nice said more than three dozen witnesses would make "grave" allegations against Chinese authorities during four days of hearings.

Nice, a British barrister who led the prosecution of ex-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and has worked with the International Criminal Court, said the forum would create "a permanent body of evidence and a record, if found, of crimes perpetrated."

Funded by the World Uyghur Congress and individual donations, the inquiry is modeled on previous "people's tribunals," including one organized in the 1960s by philosophers Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre to investigate U.S. actions in the Vietnam War.

The London tribunal is the latest attempt to hold China accountable for alleged rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim and ethnic Turkic minorities.

An estimated 1 million people or more—most of them Uyghurs—have been confined in re-education camps in China's western Xinjiang region in recent years, according to researchers. Chinese authorities have been accused of imposing forced labor, systematic forced birth control and torture, and separating children from incarcerated parents.

In April, Britain's Parliament—though not the British government—followed legislatures in Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada in declaring that Beijing's policies against the Uyghurs amounted to genocide and crimes against humanity. The U.S. government has done the same.

Tribunal witnesses who spoke to AP before the hearings include a woman who said she was forced into an abortion at 6 1/2 months pregnant, a former doctor who spoke of draconian birth control policies, and a former detainee who alleged he was "tortured day and night" by Chinese soldiers while he was imprisoned in the remote border region.

Nice said China had been asked to participate but its embassy "has neither acknowledged nor replied to letters sent."

The Chinese Embassy in London did not respond to requests for comment, but officials in China have said the tribunal was set up by "anti-China forces" to spread lies.

Western governments, including Britain's, have also declined to get involved, Nice said.

The tribunal plans to hold another four days of hearings in September, and hopes to issue its judgment by the end of the year.

Free Uyghur Petition Dutch Chinese Embassy
Human rights activists hand over a petition signed by 101,903 concerned Dutch residents at the Chinese embassy in The Hague on June 2, 2021, in The Hague, Netherlands. The activists asked for a meeting with the Chinese ambassador. An estimated 1 million-plus Uyghurs have been imprisoned, brainwashed, tortured and mistreated in so-called re-education camps in China since 2017. Pierre Crom/Getty Images

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