Xinjiang is home to millions of members of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority. They are considered a Turkic ethnic group and their language predominantly Uyghur is part of the Turkic language family. Teacher Sayragul Sauytbay told Haaretz of her experience in one of the camps.
She explained: “At the end of 2016, the police began arresting people at night, secretly.
“It was a socially and politically uncertain period. Cameras appeared in every public space; the security forces stepped up their presence. At one stage, DNA samples were taken from all members of minorities in the region and our telephone SIM cards were taken from us.”
“One day, we were invited to a meeting of senior civil servants. There were perhaps 180 people there, employees in hospitals and schools. Police officers, reading from a document, announced that reeducation centres for the population were going to open soon, in order to stabilise the situation in the region.”
Ms Sauytbay has successfully claimed asylum in Sweden.
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Two Uyghur women walk past armed police
Beijing launched a tough policy in the region following suicide attacks attributed to separatists between 2014 and 2016.
She explained: “In January 2017, they started to take people who had relatives abroad.”
The 43-year-old is of Kazakh descent and planned to move to the nation, but she had her passport confiscated, though her husband and two daughters reached Kazakhstan.
She explained: “They came to my house at night, put a black sack on my head and brought me to a place that looked like a jail. I was interrogated by police officers, who wanted to know where my husband and children were, and why they had gone to Kazakhstan.
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Protestors clash with security forces in Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital
“At the end of the interrogation I was ordered to tell my husband to come home, and I was forbidden to talk about the interrogation.
“In November 2017, I was ordered to report to an address in the city’s suburbs, to leave a message at a phone number I had been given and to wait for the police.”
Ms Sauytbay claims she was then bundled into a cab and taken to a re-education camp where was ordered to teach Chinese to follow detainees.
Singing of propaganda songs and reciting slogans such as “I love China”, “Thank you to the Communist Party”, “I am Chinese” and “I love Xi Jingping” are mandatory according to Ms Sauytbay.
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Punishments were given to those who failed to comply: “They would punish inmates for everything. Anyone who didn’t follow the rules was punished. Those who didn’t learn Chinese properly or who didn’t sing the songs were also punished.”
Ms Sauytbay alleged she was beaten and deprived of food for two days after she was hugged by a woman who asked her for help, thought she says she “did nor reciprocate the embrace”.
She even alleged seeing children as young as 13 and people as old as 84 as well as detainees given medicine which one nurse privately admitted was dangerous.
Ms Sauytbay alleges: “On an everyday basis the policemen took the pretty girls with them, and they didn’t come back to the rooms all night. The police had unlimited power.
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“They could take whoever they wanted. There were also cases of gang rape. In one of the classes I taught, one of those victims entered half an hour after the start of the lesson.
“The police ordered her to sit down, but she just couldn’t do it, so they took her to the black room for punishment.”
The term ‘black room’ was coined as it was against the rules to explicitly discuss it, Ms Sauytbay claims she saw people covered in blood and with fingernails removed.
The Chinese Embassy in Sweden wrote to Haaretz saying the testimony was “total lies and malicious smear attacks against China”, they claimed Ms Sauytbay “never worked in any vocational education and training centre in Xinjiang, and has never been detained before leaving China.”
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Claiming she left China illegally, it added: “China has been under serious threats of ethnic separatism, religious extremism and violent terrorism. The vocational education and training centres have been established in accordance with the law to eradicate extremism, which is not ‘prison camp.’”
These centres, they allege, meant: “There has been no terrorist incident in Xinjiang for more than three years. The vocational education and training work in Xinjiang has won the support of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang and positive comments from many countries across the world.”
According to The New Statesmen, one million Uyghur’s and other Muslim minorities are believed to have been detained by Chinese authorities.
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