Even as Beijing continues to reject claims of torture and illegal detention in camps across Xinjiang, three former detainees have told RTHK that they were subjected to various mental and physical abuse in such places.
On Monday, news reports had circulated quoting Xinjiang officials as saying the camps were set up to re-educate people and clamp down on terrorism and extremism.
A number of foreign media representatives were taken around some of the camps to see for themselves these claims.
But the former detainees tell a different story.
"They beat me up badly. I begged them to kill me. They tortured us, and some people died,” said 30-year-old Mihrigul Tursun.
In the summer of 2015, the Uighur, who is married to an Egyptian, brought her newborn triplets back to her hometown in Xinjian. She was taken away by mainland officials once she landed at the airport, accused of conducting subversive activities.
Tursun said inmates had to “make confessions” every day before they were given meals, which they had to eat while squatting.
They were also forced to sing Communist songs and recite passages to praise the party "long live Xi Jinping", she said.
She remembers being put in a 40-square-foot cell with more than 40 other women locked up for various reasons, such as keeping a Koran at home, attending an Islamic wedding, or wearing a face veil in public.
Among them was a village girl who was locked up for listening to an Arabic song on her phone, said Tursun.
“She told me she heard this Arabic song, she didn’t understand the language but it was nice to listen to. She said that’s why they detained her. She had just finished primary school, what could she have done?”
Tursun said she was released 13 months later, after the intervention of the Egyptian Embassy.
Another former camp inmate, Omir Bekali, grew up in Xinjiang but had become a citizen of Kazakhstan. He returned to China to visit his relatives last year and was locked up for allegedly threatening national security.
He also rejected the authorities' claims that people are in the camp for vocational training and Chinese language classes.
“There were doctors, post graduates, teachers, and lawyers. Why did they have to be educated? They were university graduates. The authorities are covering up the truth, they are lying to the world. And they have the audacity to say they’re doing it for human rights.”
He said people who disobeyed instructions were punished. Some were not given food or water for 24 hours, and others were forced to stand outside naked, in extreme weather.
The 43-year-old said his father died in the camp, and his mother, siblings, as well as his wife’s relatives are all still incarcerated. He was freed after eight months, with the assistance of the embassy of Kazakhstan.
Jalilova Gulbakhar, born and raised in Kazakhstan, had been doing business in China for two decades when she was locked up in May 2017, for transferring 17,000 yuan to a Turkish company. Officials charged her with financing terrorists.
She said she wrote down the name of more than 200 people she lived with in the camps, most of them Uighurs, adding she believes they are all innocent.
“I have to speak up for them. I have to tell the world that China is growing strong, but in Xinjiang there's a dark side to it,” she said. “I can’t sleep thinking of the girls every night. I won’t stop what I’m doing even if it will cost me my life”.
She too, was only released after the intervention of the Kazakhstan Embassy.
All three told RTHK that they have no animosity towards Han Chinese people and it is the government’s policies that caused their suffering.