When the government ordered women in her predominantly Muslim community to receive contraceptive devices, Qelbinur Sedik asked to be exempted from this measure. I told the Xinjiang authorities that I was almost 50 years old. He had obeyed the birth limits set by the government and had only one child.
It didn’t help. The authorities threatened to take her to the police if she continued to resist. Sedik said he visited and visited a government clinic where a doctor, using metal tweezers, inserted a contraceptive IUD (intrauterine device). She cried as she went through the procedure.
“I felt like I was no longer a normal woman,” Sedik said, in a choked voice, describing the suffering he experienced in 2017. “As if something was missing.
In much of China, authorities are encouraging women to have more children, trying to avoid a predicted population crisis due to the falling birth rate. But in Xinjiang, in the far west of the country, women are being forced to have less in an attempt to tighten their grip on ethnic Muslim minorities.
It is part of a broad and repressive campaign of social reengineering by a Communist Party determined to eliminate anything it sees as a challenge to its rule – in the case of Xinjiang, ethnic separatism.
In recent years, the party, under the leadership of top leader Xi Jinping, has taken aggressive steps to control Uyghurs and other Central Asian minorities in Xinjiang, sending hundreds of thousands of them to camps. detention centers and prisons. The authorities imposed a strict surveillance regime in the region, sent residents to work in factories and children to boarding schools.
When they turn to crackdown on Muslim women, authorities go even further, seeking to orchestrate a demographic transformation that will affect the population for generations. The birth rate has fallen sharply in the region in recent years with the use of invasive birth control procedures, facts previously documented by researcher Adrian Zenz working with the Associated Press.
Authorities said the procedures were voluntary, but interviews with more than a dozen Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims, women and men in Xinjiang, as well as an analysis of official statistics, opinions published by the government and state media reports reveal a coercive effort by the Chinese Communist Party to control the reproductive rights of the community.
The authorities pressured the women to use an IUD or be sterilized. When they recovered at home, government officials were sent to live with them to watch for signs of dissatisfaction. One woman described how she had to endure being touched by the government official.
If they had too many children or refused contraceptive methods, they had to pay heavy fines or, worse yet, be held in detention camps. In the camps, women were at risk of further abuse. Some former detainees in these camps said they were forced to take drugs that interrupted their menstrual cycles. A woman said she was raped in an internment camp.
For human rights defenders and Western officials, the Chinese government’s crackdown in Xinjiang amounts to crimes against humanity and genocide, largely due to efforts to curb the population growth of Muslim minorities. The Trump administration in January was the first government to declare the crackdown a genocide, with reproductive oppression being the main reason. The Biden administration reaffirmed the qualification in March.
In the Guardian and other publications, Sedik’s testimony helped support the U.S. government’s decision. “It was one of the most detailed and compelling first-person accounts we’ve heard,” said Kelley E. Currie, a former US ambassador who participated in the government discussions. “His report helped make the horrific statistics that we see as human.”
Beijing accuses its detractors of promoting an anti-China agenda.
The Chinese government says the recent drop in the birth rate in the region is due to the full implementation of long-standing birth restrictions. Sterilizations and contraceptive procedures, he said, free women from backward attitudes towards procreation and religion.
“The use of contraceptive methods and the method chosen are entirely determined by the free will of women,” government spokesman Xu Guixiang said at a press conference in March. “No one or any body is going to intervene.”
“I have lost all hope”
Qelbinur Sedik, an ethnic Uzbek, has always seen herself as a model citizen.
After graduating from college, she married and devoted herself to work, teaching Chinese language to Uyghur students in primary school. Mindful of the rules, she waited for permission from her employer to become pregnant. She only had one daughter in 1993.
Sedik could have had two children. The rules of the time allowed members of ethnic minorities to have slightly larger families than those of the majority ethnic Chinese, the Han, especially in the countryside. The government even gave Sedik a certificate of honor for staying within the boundaries.
But that all changed in 2017.
At the same time as the government has cornered Uyghurs and Kazakhs in mass detention camps, it has stepped up the implementation of birth controls. Between 2015 and 2018, Xinjiang’s sterilization index increased nearly six-fold, reaching just over 60,000 procedures. At the same time, according to Zenz’s calculations, sterilizations have drastically decreased in the rest of the country.
The campaign in Xinjiang is at odds with a broader government-led effort since 2015 to encourage births, including offering tax incentives and free IUD removal. But between 2015 and 2018, new IUD insertions increased in Xinjiang, while the devices were used less and less across the country.
The contraception campaign seems to have worked.
According to Zenz’s calculations, the birth rate in counties in the region populated mostly by ethnic minorities declined sharply between 2015 and 2018. Several of those counties stopped releasing demographic data, but Zenz estimated that in 2019, the birth rate in minority areas continued to decline. decrease, a little over 50% compared to 2018.
Judging by what Beijing is saying, the campaign is a victory for Muslim women in the region.
“The de-radicalization process has also led to the liberation of some female spirits,” said a January report from a research center in Xinjiang. “Women have avoided the suffering of being trapped by extremism and turned into tools of reproduction.”
Women like Sedik, who had obeyed the rules, were not spared. After inserting the IUD, Sedik suffered from heavy bleeding and headaches. He then secretly removed the device and then reinserted it. In 2019, she decided to be sterilized.
“The government had become so rigid and I couldn’t take the IUD any longer,” said Sedik, who fled China in 2019 and now lives in the Netherlands. “I have lost all hope.”
“The women of Xinjiang are in danger”
The penalties for those who disobey the government are heavy. A Han Chinese woman who violated the birth rules would be fined, but a Uyghur or Kazakh woman who did so risked arrest.
When Gulnar Omirzakh had her third child in 2015, authorities in her village registered the birth. Three years later, however, she was told that she had violated the limit on the number of children and that she owed a $ 2,700 fine.
If Omirzakh did not pay the fines, they said, she and her two daughters would be detained. She borrowed money from her relatives. He later fled to Kazakhstan.
“Women in Xinjiang are in danger,” Omirazkh said in a telephone interview. “The government wants to replace our people.”
The threat of arrest was real.
Three women told the NYT they had met other inmates in internment camps who had been held for violating birth restrictions.
The reports of the ex-detainees could not be verified by an independent source because strict restrictions in Xinjiang make free access to the internment camps impossible. The Chinese government categorically rejects all allegations of abuse in the camps.
“Sexual assault and torture cannot exist,” said Xu, the regional spokesperson, at a press meeting in February.
While claiming to defend women’s rights, Beijing seeks to question the credibility of women who have come forward to file a complaint, accusing them of lies and immorality.
“We are all Chinese”
Even the women did not feel safe at home. Representatives of the Chinese Communist Party came to their home uninvited and were forced to let them in.
As part of a campaign called “Form Couples and Become Families,” the party sent more than one million staff to visit Muslim homes regularly, sometimes to stay with them. For many Uyghurs, these representatives are nothing more than spies.
Representatives were to inform authorities if families they visited showed signs of “extremist behavior”. In the case of the women, this included any resentment they might have felt for having been subjected to state-imposed contraceptive procedures.
When party representatives visited his home in 2018, Zumret Dawut had just been forcibly sterilized.
Four representatives of Hans visited her in Urumqi, she recalls, bringing yogurt and eggs to help her recover. They also came armed with questions: Did she have any complaints about the sterilization operation? Were you dissatisfied with government policy?
“I was very scared that I would be sent back to the fields if I said something wrong,” said Dawut, a mother of three. “So I just said, ‘We are all Chinese and we must do what Chinese law says.’