A young woman shares her family’s tragedy: her parents were sent to internment camps in Xinjiang, and three siblings are left to fend for themselves.
by Xiang Yi
Any Uyghur in Xinjiang may be locked up indefinitely at the dreaded transformation through education camps. Even baseless anonymous reports or a violation of the many imposed rules, often bordering on the absurd, may serve as the reason for arrests. Most often, however, no other pretext – just their ethnicity and religious beliefs – is needed to send them away for “re-education.” The fear of being detained has turned the life of Muslims in this far western China’s autonomous region into a daily nightmare.
To avoid persecution and prove that they are not posing any dangers to society, local Uyghurs are going out of their way to stay under the authorities’ radar and be overly cautious about their every step. Some have even started saluting passing-by Han residents to demonstrate that they are “harmless.” Despite their attempts, large numbers of Uyghurs continue to be locked up in camps – up to three million people by now, according to some calculations.
At the start of the conversation, the woman, who just turned 20, showed a family photo, in which the entire family smiles radiantly. This was in recent past; now, tears, not smiles, are their daily companions.
The family’s troubles started in the winter of 2017 when village officials summoned her father for questioning for the first time. After returning from the meeting, the father spoke very little; perhaps, not wanting to worry his family about the approaching troubles.
After the second summons to the village authorities, the man didn’t return home. “The chief of the police station called and told us to go and say goodbye to our dad. When we saw seven or eight police officers putting our dad in a police car and taking him away, we were stunned, all of us cried incessantly,” the woman remembered with great sadness the day her father was taken away to a transformation through education camp.
Since that day, the woman’s mother, now in charge of the household and their three children alone, became perpetually anxious, she cried every day. About two weeks later, officials summoned her to the village committee. Fearing for her fate, the children accompanied their mother but were stopped outside the building.
“Your mom will go out in a moment after the meeting ends,” said one of the officials. However, soon, several buses pulled up at the entrance to the village committee. The family witnessed in shock how police officers led their mother, along with more than 300 other people, onto the buses and took off.
The family soon learned that their mother was taken to the local Education and Training Center No. 6 – a type of transformation through education camp. No explanation has been given for the mother’s arrest to this day.
And so, the young woman was left to take care of the family’s home and her two younger siblings, one of the sisters still attends school. She has to earn money alone for all of their living expenses. She feels helpless and sad all the time.
The three siblings are allowed to go to the local village committee office for video calls with their mom, each call lasting 5 to 10 minutes. “During these calls, baton-wielding police officers stand guard beside us. We don’t dare to say anything, we just cry uncontrollably,” the young woman told Bitter Winter.
The mother is worried about the fate of her children. There is not much she can do. At least, she instructs them to be “good Chinese,” which she hopes will save them from being locked up. “Don’t play with your cellphones. Don’t go online. You must study Mandarin and sing the national anthem. You must say that the Communist Party is good and that socialism is good…” this is what the mother repeats to her children during the calls from the camp.
Compared to other Uyghur children whose parents have been taken to transformation through education camps, the three siblings could be considered lucky: at least they still have a home and have not been sent to specialized government institutions – prison-like “schools” of Han Chinese propaganda – where they live and are educated in an entirely “hanified” environment. In this way, the inheritors of the Uyghur culture are denied their birthright.