“I was tortured for 24 hours on a tiger chair”: our exclusive series of testimonies from ethnic Kazakhs persecuted in China continues.
by Serikzhan Bilash and Karima Abdrakhmova*
*Galman Kochiigit, Bekzat Maxutkan, Gulzhan Toktassyn, Galym Rakizhan, and Tilek Niyazbek cooperated with the interviews and in preparing this series.
Bakytgul Ramazan is a resident of Kazakhstan from September 18, 2019. She moved to Kazakhstan from the 1st hamlet Terekti, village Ush Karassu, Dörbiljin (Emin) county, Xinjiang, in 2014. She was born on July 29, 1969.
Bakytgul crossed the border of China on October 8, 2017, and her passport was immediately confiscated by the security officers at the border. She went to China to see her 20-year-old son and take him back to Kazakhstan with her.
Bakytgul was a member of the Chinese Communist Party, and she paid her yearly membership fee regularly. But that year she had been a little late in her payment. She went to the local Party department to pay. But the head of the department told her she will be sent to a transformation through education camp, and she should cut her hair short in preparation for going there.
On December 29, 2017, she was taken to the transformation through education camp. She was told this was because she had not paid her Communist Party yearly fee in time, and also she had not cut her hair short when requested.
Bakytgul told Bitter Winter about her life in the camps in details, about her routine days there, about having to wear a blue uniform, about being tortured on a tiger chair, being chained, handcuffed and shackled for 24 hours, about how the prison guards sprayed pepper spray into her mouth. After being tortured for 24 hours, she was forced to apologize for bad behavior. The temperature in the cell was cold, the clothes were light. She witnessed severe punishments for complaining about insufficient food, and even for no reason at all.
The prisoners were forced to learn the Chinese language, Communist party’s songs, and even how to dance. She was forced to confess crimes she did not commit, and forced to “remember” all her actions that were contrary to the ideology of the Party. She kept being told how bad it was that she has been late in paying her CCP membership fee, and asked why she visited Kazakhstan 32 times. They told her that Kazakhstan is a dangerous country, where people perform the Islamic prayer Namaz. At first, she was kept in Turgun camp in Dörbiljin (Emin) county, then transferred to a newly built camp that was nearby.
Among the imprisoned women there were a lot of Dungan women. They tried to perform Namaz, but their hair was cut short.
The prisoners were allowed to see their relatives, who had to remain beyond an iron grating, once a month. She was sent to the prison hospital as she needed removal of her intrauterine device. She remained in the hospital for 15 days, then she was sent back to Turgun camp.
During the month of Ramadan, she was under strict supervision, fed with pork, and watched how she washed her hands and face to make sure she was not performing Muslim religious rituals. But she was very careful and avoided all religious practices, trying to avoid punishment and torture. She reports that women who were punished for performing Namaz prayers were surprised, as they had learned to do so in Muslim institutions approved by the Chinese government.
Bakytgul reported that there were about 400 Kazakh women in her camp. After seven or eight months, some rules in the camp were suddenly changed. The prison guards started asking prisoners whether they needed to eat more.
Before being released from prison, the Kazakh prisoners were warned not to tell any detail about their imprisonment, especially after coming to Kazakhstan. They were told that Kazakhstan “is one of the 26 most dangerous countries in the world,” and is plagued by terrorists. When relatives came to visit, talking about food in the camp or crying was strictly forbidden. Instead, prisoners should say they were grateful to the CCP and the government.
Bakytgul was released from prison on December 24, 2018. After that, she was under supervision for 6 months and forced to work as a duty worker in the local department without salary. However, once she was given 20 RMB and another time 100 RMB, but she was told she had to obey all orders from the department.
On August 19, 2019, she was given her Kazakhstani residence permission and she crossed the border of Kazakhstan on August 20, 2019. Her two daughters and husband had appealed for her continuously in Kazakhstan and came to Atajurt human rights office in Almaty to ask help to free Bakytgul. She said that it was due to protests in Kazakhstan that she was released from the Chinese camp.
*Karima Abdrakhmanova was born in 1962 in Taraz, Kazakhstan, and lives in Petropavlosk, in North Kazakhstan. She graduated in 1985 from Kyrgyz Pedagogical Women Institute and is a teacher of English language.