China is reportedly sending men to sleep in the same beds as Uighur Muslim women while their husbands are in prison camps

An ethnic Uighur woman holding her child in a shop in Kashgar, in China's far western Xinjiang province.

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An ethnic Uighur woman holding her child in a shop in Kashgar, in China’s far western Xinjiang province.
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Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

  • China’s Communist Party is waging a hardline campaign against the Uighur ethnic minority, which has seen more than 1 million people detained in prison camps.
  • Authorities have since 2017 been sending men to live with Uighur women, many of whose husbands had been sent to prison camps.
  • Those men often sleep in the same beds as the women, a new Radio Free Asia report says, citing two unnamed Chinese officials.
  • It is almost impossible to hear from Uighurs in Xinjiang because speaking to journalists or anyone outside the region can get them imprisoned too.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Chinese men assigned to monitor the homes of Uighur women whose husbands were sent to prison camps frequently sleep in the same beds as them, Radio Free Asia reported last week.

It appears to be another facet of the Communist Party’s hardline campaign against the mostly-Muslim Uighur people in their home region of Xinjiang, in western China, over the past two years.

Beijing sees all Uighur people as terrorists and has used Islamophobia to justify its actions in the past.

Authorities have detained at least 1 million Uighurs in prison-like camps, euphemistically called “re-education centers.” Activists have likened the campaign to ethnic cleansing.

Since 2017, China has run a “Pair Up and Become Family” program in the region, in which Communist Party officials who are Han Chinese – the ethnic group that makes up most of China’s population – stay in Uighur homes.

The program is to “promote ethnic unity,” officials say, but it also lets the government keep a close eye on the Uighurs.

Those officials, who are mostly men, typically stay for up to six days at each Uighur household, many of which have male family members in detention, RFA described an anonymous Communist Party official in Kashgar as saying.

A masked Uighur boy at a protest at the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, in November 2018.

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A masked Uighur boy at a protest at the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, in November 2018.
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Murad Sezer/Reuters

The Han Chinese officials – who are called “relatives,” even though they are not family – visit Kashgar every two months and work and eat with Uighur families, as well as discuss Communist Party political ideology, the official told RFA.

“They help [the families] with their ideology, bringing new ideas,” he told RFA. “They talk to them about life, during which time they develop feelings for one another.”

He added that “normally one or two people sleep in one bed, and if the weather is cold, three people sleep together,” and that “it is now considered normal for females to sleep on the same platform with their paired male ‘relatives.'”

A government official scanning a QR code on the wall of a house in Xinjiang that gives him access to the residents' personal information.

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A government official scanning a QR code on the wall of a house in Xinjiang that gives him access to the residents’ personal information.
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Xinjiang state radio via Human Rights Watch

RFA said a local neighborhood official in Yengisar County, where Kashgar is, confirmed the sleeping arrangements but insisted that “relatives” and their female hosts always keep a distance of three feet between them at night.

Both officials cited in RFA’s article claimed that male Communist Party officials had never tried to take advantage of the women. The official in Kashgar told RFA that the Uighur families were “very keen” to welcome the Han Chinese men into their homes.

It is almost impossible to hear from Uighurs in Xinjiang, as any communication with journalists or people outside the region can land them in detention. Uighurs living abroad previously told Business Insider that their relatives in the region had blocked them online to avoid being punished for communicating with outsiders.

China’s embassies in London and Washington, DC, did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on RFA’s article.

Sayragul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh Uighur woman who fled a Xinjiang detention camp, told Haaretz last month that she witnessed a gang rape and medical experiments on other prisoners. She said she was also subject to beatings and food deprivation because another prisoner hugged her.

Sayragul Sauytbay in court in Zharkent, Kazakhstan, in July 2018.

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Sayragul Sauytbay in court in Zharkent, Kazakhstan, in July 2018.
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Ruslan Prianxov / AFP via Getty

RFA is one of the remaining outlets documenting the Uighur oppression from the region.

Chinese officials have forbidden all foreign journalists from entering the region, though two Vice reporters sneaked in as tourists and took undercover footage earlier this year.

The government has also arranged highly staged trips to detention camps for foreign journalists and inspectors in the past.

Rep. Jackie Speier of California tweeted that the RFA story was “absolutely repulsive” and urged the US to “speak out about the systemized enslavement and attempted cultural obliteration” of the Uighurs.

The Treasury Department blacklisted some of China’s most valuable artificial-intelligence startups last month over their role in surveilling Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have criticized Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang, but President Donald Trump has not said anything.

Last week, China warned the US that criticism over the Uighurs was not “helpful” for ongoing trade talks.