Muslims in China have been forced to drink alcohol and eat pork in detention camps

Muslims in China have been forced to drink alcohol and eat pork in detention camps

Muslims in China detained in "re-education camps" have been forced to drink alcohol and eat pork, and have been made to perform other demeaning practices, a former detainee has alleged. Since spring 2017, authorities in the Xinjiang region have arrested thousands of Muslims, including foreign nationals, often without trial or charges. A United States commission has called it the “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today."

Omir Bekali, a Muslim man who originally hails from Kazakhstan, claims that, while in custody at one such re-education centre, he was subjected to a number of degrading punishments. Bekali was originally arrested by one of the Chinese government's security agencies on March 23, 2017. He had driven past the Chinese border from his home in Almaty for a work trip, before being detained for eight months without legal recourse.

Afterwards, he was allegedly subjected to a programme of intense cultural cleansing, designed to erase his Islamic beliefs and encourage devotion to the Chinese Communist Party. Bekali was forced to criticise his own spiritual values, as well as the people and things he most loved, in order to be rewarded with special privileges.

He was also forced to consume foods and drinks which were not halal. If he refused to conform and abide by the rules, he was cruelly punished with solitary confinement, beatings and starvation. Prisoners were not even allowed to regularly bathe, since the washing of the hands and feet remains an important Islamic ritual.

The re-education programs, which are designed to stamp out religious fundamentalism in China, mirror techniques employed by Chairman Mao's regime during the height of the Cultural Revolution in the 1950s. According to Bekali, detainees at the tightly-guarded compounds were made to stand before classmates and recite criticisms of Islam and of their history, before being criticised in turn by their peers. The people who refused to speak Mandarin, or to denounce the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, were punished, while those who dutifully recited government propaganda, or who actively abused their fellow internees, were awarded points and given special privileges.

In a recent interview, Bekali stated: "The psychological pressure is enormous, when you have to criticise yourself, denounce your thinking – your own ethnic group ... I still think about it every night, until the sun rises. I can’t sleep. The thoughts are with me all the time." Bekali became suicidal as a result of his experiences at the compound, but was eventually freed after he was visited by a number of Kazakh diplomats, including the deputy foreign minister.

A report from the Human Rights Watch claims that authorities in Xinjiang have increased mass surveillance across the region, and are persecuting Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. It states: 'These people are then at the mercy of a judicial system rife with abuse, including torture, that presents defendants only limited scope to contest the state’s accusations even for ordinary, non-political, crimes."

Thus far, Chinese officials in Xinjiang have refused to comment on the situation.