Chinese officials have denounced a former Uyghur internment camp detainee who was forcibly sterilized about three years ago and has spoken publicly about her ordeal, as part of an ongoing smear campaign to discredit those who have exposed abuses against the mostly Muslim minority group.
Zumrat Dawut, who came to the U.S. with her family via Pakistan in 2019, had testified about her experience in the camps, where she was subjected to forced sterilization, providing news outlets and human rights organizations with strong evidence of the Chinese government’s alleged genocidal policies.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced her in April along with other former residents of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) who had testified about abuses in the region while living abroad as liars, criminals, terrorists, and persons of “bad morality.”
At a press conference Monday in Beijing, XUAR government officials defended their policies concerning Uyghur women and responded to recent reports that they had sold the assets of detained Uyghur businesspeople online.
Chinese officials hold periodic press conferences to counter condemnation of a litany of documented abuses against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang, including confinement in mass internment camps, sexual assaults, forced abortions and birth control measures, and forced labor.
China has held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and others in “re-education” camps since 2017, while dismissing widely documented evidence that it has mistreated Muslims living inside and outside the camps, including testimony from former detainees and guards describing widespread abuses in interviews with RFA and other media outlets.
Chinese officials say the camps are vocational training facilities where Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities are taught skills in an effort to prevent religious extremism and terrorism in the region, where about 12 million Uyghurs live.
At the press conference, Xinjiang government spokesman Xu Guixiang discussed what he called the “protection of women’s rights and interests” in Xinjiang.
“Some anti-China forces falsely claim that Xinjiang has severely violated the rights and interests of ethnic minority women, and spread lies about the so-called forced birth control and forced labor by ethnic minority women,” he said.
“Facts have proved that with the continuous enhancement of the protection of women’s rights and interests in Xinjiang, the development environment of women of all ethnic groups has been continuously improved, the level of education has been significantly improved, the awareness of rights protection of marriage, family and property has increased significantly, and people’s livelihoods and welfare have been steadily improved,” Xu said.
‘They wanted to attack me psychologically’
When discussing policies on Uyghur women, Xu attacked Zumrat, who was forced to undergo sterilization surgery three years ago.
He rejected statements that Zumrat previously made that she had been held in a “training center,” that she and other detained Uyghur women were forced to take contraceptives, and that she had been forced to undergo sterilization surgery. He also denied that her “relatives”— Han Chinese assigned to monitor the homes of Uyghurs — had forced her to eat pork.
Xu also said that Zumrat’s father had never been questioned by police and did not die in custody.
Additionally, Xu told the audience that the woman’s older brother said that her Han “relative” was actually a relative of Zumrat’s brother, Abduhelil Dawut, and that his “relative” never once spent the night in the house.
Xu went on to say that in January 2018, Zumrat’s brother’s “relative” invited Zumrat, along with her brother and sister-in-law, to come to his house, and that the relative’s mother was an ethnic Hui Muslim, which meant that that it was impossible that she would have served pork to the guests.
The Xinjiang regional government has smeared other former Uyghur female detainees, including Tursunay Ziyawudun, Qelbinur Sidiq, and Sayragul Sauytbay, who have testified about the abuse they endured or witnessed.
Zumrat told RFA on Monday that she was surprised that Xu had discredited her at the press conference.
“They took advantage of a time when I was ill and weak,” she said. “It was as though they wanted to attack me psychologically. … On top of that, today is exactly two years since the day my father died. The time of my surgery occurred at the same time as the two-year anniversary of his death.”
Zumrat also said that she has ample evidence that she was in an internment camp, underwent forced sterilization surgery, and had Han Chinese “relatives” inside her home.
“Even now, compared to other survivors, whether we’re talking about the ‘relatives’ program or other things, I witnessed it all and have photographs I took with me when I left,” she said. “They cannot deny this.”
“There wasn’t only one [‘relative’] in my house. My daughter was five years old at the time, and even she had a Han Chinese ‘relative,’” Zumrat said. “I can’t remember their names right now, but I have photos of all of them. I even have photos when they were lying down and sleeping on the quilts in my home.”
Zumrat pointed out that Xu was correct in stating that the mother of her older brother’s “relative,” who is surnamed Zhao, was an ethnic Hui, but that the official failed to mention that Zhao’s father was Han Chinese.
Zhao renounced her own family and married a Han Chinese man, saying that she had become Han herself and started eating pork, Zumrat said.
“She gave us [pork],” she said. “She told us that it was necessary to slowly, gradually change Muslim [halal] rules. She said things like that, like it was nothing. And she was actually a police officer, this woman, Zhao.”
The press conference coincided with Zumrat’s recovery from a hysterectomy at a hospital in northern Virginia on Oct. 7. She had to undergo the operation because the forced sterilization surgery had damaged her uterus and endangered her life.
A written statement Zumrat submitted to her gynecologist said she had become infertile approximately three years ago after undergoing forced surgery in China.
Her physician, Dr. Devin Miller, said in a letter obtained by RFA that the forced sterilization left Zumrat unable to have children.
Uyghur human rights activist Rahima Mahmut said Uyghur women have been the greatest source of firsthand information about the internment camps in Xinjiang and that China is attacking those who have been released because they have exposed the government’s wrongdoings.
“It is primarily these brave women of ours who have spoken about the terrifying things inside [the camps],” she told RFA. “They have spurred discussion in the world by speaking in detail about intensely private things, things that people are normally too afraid to speak about. There has been a great power in this. This is why China is attacking them.”
Mahmut also said that China is using all means to cover up its crimes, including denouncing all former camp detainees as liars.
“Why are they attacking Uyghur women to this degree nonstop?” she asked “It’s because they have exposed China’s real motives. These women have done the best job in raising awareness of China’s crimes against humanity.”
The U.S. and other Western states have determined that the treatment of Uyghurs constitutes genocide and crimes against humanity. They also have imposed unilateral sanctions on relevant individuals and entities in Xinjiang.
XUAR government officials at the press conference also defended the seizure and online auction of property confiscated from detained Uyghur businesspeople.
The government has sold assets totaling more than U.S. $80 million, according to a Wall Street Journal report based on information compiled by the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) and published in September.
XUAR government spokesman Elijan Inayet defended the sales of the assets, telling attendees at the press conference that the individuals who owned them had been arrested and imprisoned on charges such as terrorism, extremism, inciting ethnic hatred, and disturbing the social order.
But the UHRP report said that the individuals detained for such charges had been jailed “in a highly secretive process of arrest and trial that appears to fall outside judicial due process, in violation of China’s own laws.”