Three Uighurs who fled from China to Turkey have described forced abortions and torture by Chinese authorities in the far western Xinjiang region.
They were speaking ahead of giving evidence to a people’s tribunal in London that is investigating if Beijing’s actions against ethnic Uighurs amount to genocide.
One woman said she was forced to have an abortion when she was six and half months pregnant, a former doctor spoke of draconian birth control policies, and a man alleged he was “tortured day and night” by Chinese soldiers while he was imprisoned in the remote border region.
They spoke to the Associated Press before giving by videolink to the independent UK tribunal, which is expected to draw dozens of witnesses when it opens four days of hearings on Friday.
The tribunal, which does not have UK Government backing, will be chaired by prominent human rights lawyer Geoffrey Nice, who led the prosecution of ex-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and worked with the International Criminal Court.
While the tribunal’s judgment is not binding on any government, organisers hope the process of publicly laying out evidence will compel international action to tackle growing concerns about alleged abuses in Xinjiang against the Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group.
One witness, mother-of-four Bumeryem Rozi, 55, said authorities in Xinjiang rounded her up along with other pregnant women to abort her fifth child in 2007. She said she complied because she feared that otherwise authorities would have confiscated her home and belongings and endangered her family.
“I was six and a half months pregnant. The police came, one Uighur and two Chinese. They put me and eight other pregnant women in cars and took us to the hospital,” Ms Rozi said.
“They first gave me a pill and said to take it. So I did. I didn’t know what it was. Half an hour later, they put a needle in my belly. And some time after that I lost my child.”
Semsinur Gafur, a former obstetrician-gynaecologist who worked in a village hospital in Xinjiang in the 1990s, said she and other female clinicians used to go house to house with a mobile ultrasound machine to check if anyone was pregnant.
“If a household had more births than allowed, they would raze the home. They would flatten the house, destroy it,” Ms Gafur said.
“This was my life there. It was very distressing. And because I worked in a state hospital, people didn’t trust me. The Uighur people saw me as a Chinese traitor.”
A third exile, Mahmut Tevekkul, said he was imprisoned and tortured in 2010 by Chinese authorities who interrogated him for information about one of his brothers. He said the brother was wanted partly because he published a religious book in Arabic.
Mr Tevekkul described being beaten and punched in the face during questioning.
“They put us on a tiled floor, shackled our hands and feet and tied us to a pipe, like a gas pipe. There were six soldiers guarding us. They interrogated us until the morning and then they took us to the maximum-security area of the prison,” he said.
The tribunal is the latest attempt to hold China accountable for alleged rights abuses against the Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim and ethnic Turkic minorities.
An estimated one million people or more — most of them Uighurs — have been confined in re-education camps in Xinjiang in recent years, according to researchers.
Chinese authorities have been accused of imposing forced labour, systematic forced birth control and torture, and separating children from incarcerated parents.
Beijing has flatly rejects the allegations. Officials have characterised the camps, which they say are now closed, as vocational training centres to teach Chinese language, job skills and the law to support economic development and combat extremism.
The hearings’ organisers said Chinese authorities have ignored requests to participate in the proceedings.