Amnesty Reports

Like We Were Enemies in a War

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Like We Were Enemies in a War

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Report 2015/16

The state of the world’s human rights


Executive Summary

Since 2017, under the guise of a campaign against “terrorism”, the government of China has carried out massive and systematic abuses against Muslims living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang). Far from a legitimate response to the purported terrorist threat, the government’s campaign evinces a clear intent to target parts of Xinjiang’s population collectively on the basis of religion and ethnicity and to use severe violence and intimidation to root out Islamic religious beliefs and Turkic Muslim ethno-cultural practices. The government aims to replace these beliefs and practices with secular state-sanctioned views and behaviours, and, ultimately, to forcibly assimilate members of these ethnic groups into a homogenous Chinese nation possessing a unified language, culture, and unwavering loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

To achieve this political indoctrination and forced cultural assimilation, the government undertook a campaign of arbitrary mass detention. Huge numbers of men and women from predominantly Muslim ethnic groups have been detained. They include hundreds of thousands who have been sent to prisons as well as hundreds of thousands – perhaps 1 million or more – who have been sent to what the government refers to as “training” or “education” centres. These facilities are more accurately described as internment camps. Detainees in these camps are subjected to a ceaseless indoctrination campaign as well as physical and psychological torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

The internment camp system is part of a larger campaign of subjugation and forced assimilation of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The government of China has enacted other far-reaching policies that severely restrict the behaviour of Muslims in Xinjiang. These policies violate multiple human rights, including the rights to liberty and security of person; to privacy; to freedom of movement; to opinion and expression; to thought, conscience, religion, and belief; to participate in cultural life; and to equality and non-discrimination. These violations are carried out in such a widespread and systematic manner that they are now an inexorable aspect of daily life for millions of members of predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

The government of China has taken extreme measures to prevent accurate information about the situation in Xinjiang from being documented, and finding reliable information about life inside the internment camps is particularly difficult. Between October 2019 and May 2021, Amnesty International interviewed dozens of former detainees and other people who were present in Xinjiang since 2017, most of whom had never spoken publicly about their experiences before. The testimonies of former detainees represent a significant portion of all public testimonial evidence gathered about the situation inside the internment camps since 2017.


This report is a product of field and remote research carried out between October 2019 and May 2021. The report’s findings and conclusions are based on first-hand testimonies that Amnesty International gathered from former detainees of the internment camps and other people who were present in Xinjiang after 2017, as well as from an analysis of satellite imagery and data. The report also draws on testimonial evidence and confidential government documents gathered and analysed by journalists, scholars, and other human rights organizations.

108 people were interviewed for this report: 55 former detainees of internment camps in Xinjiang (37 men and 16 women), 15 other people who lived in or visited Xinjiang since 2017, and 48 family members of people from Xinjiang who are currently missing or detained. The majority of the interviewees were Kazakh, a minority were Uyghurs, and a small number were Kyrgyz, or Han Chinese.

The former detainee testimonies represent a significant portion of all public testimonial evidence gathered about the situation inside the internment camps since 2017. Forty-four of the 55 former detainees interviewed for this report had never shared any part of their stories publicly before, and several others had never shared significant portions of their stories. According to the Xinjiang Victims Database – a website run by human rights researchers and activists that aggregates and synthesizes all publicly available testimony related to Xinjiang internment camps – excluding the former detainees interviewed publicly for the first time in this report, approximately 60 former detainees have ever spoken publicly. See Xinjiang Victims Database,