A Bitter Winter reporter has managed to talk to a detainee in one of the “transformation through education camps” for local Muslims in Xinjiang, where over 1,200 men and women are held.
The “transformation through education camp” is in a three-story building surrounded by the Gobi Desert. There are no signs on the facility’s front gate, and the entrance is blocked off by an iron fence, armed police officers guarding it. Relatives of the detained who have come to visit and community staff are gathered in the courtyard waiting to get inside. The guards first call the community staff and afterward, the names of visiting relatives are called out who are later led into a large reception room to wait.
The camp has three small reception rooms, so once the name of a detainee is called out, the staff bring his or her visitor into a smaller reception room for a 20-minute meeting – the maximum time allowed for visiting. Inside the room, two camp employees register the identity card of each visitor. They also record the conversation between visitors and detainees, while two officers stand guard at the door.
A detained Muslim, named Ma Gang (pseudonym), a very thin-looking man, is escorted into the room. From his surprised look, it is apparent that he didn’t know that his relatives were coming to visit him today, and this brings tears to his eyes. His family members quickly take out some fruit and other food, trying to hide the goods from the eyes of the guards. Asked about the conditions in the facility, Ma Gang replies that 12 other detainees are sharing his room; they sleep on their sides, crowded together, and it gets sweltering. Every morning, they are forced to study President Xi Jinping’s speeches. In the afternoon, they have to write “ideological reports” and describe what they have learned. As soon as the guards overhear Ma Gang talking about the conditions in the camp, the visit is terminated. Ma Gang looks surprised, but he quickly stands up and walks away without looking back. His family members wanted to see him off, but they were stopped. The meeting was even shorter than the allowed 20 minutes.
His relatives later explain that Ma Gang was raised in a Muslim religious home and he often preached to others, sometimes even on his mobile phone, which resulted in it being monitored by the authorities. In January 2018, two community officers arrested Ma Gang, and ten minutes after, two local policemen arrived at his home and searched it, without presenting any credentials, eventually confiscating several books on Islam.
According to inside sources, over 1,200 men and women from the Hui and Uyghur ethnic groups are held in this particular “transformation through education camp.” Family members are mostly allowed to talk to them once a month using video calling technology. The CCP has categorized the camp’s detainees in three tiers. In the first tier, the detainees are “obedient and well-behaved,” and have a chance to leave after completing their “transformation through education.” The second tier is for “unyielding and defiant” – their release is uncertain. The third tier is for those who will not be released and could face prison sentences. Since Ma Gang remains steadfast in his Islamic faith, he has been designated to the second tier.
According to family members, ever since Ma Gang was detained, no one dares to have contact with them. The family is afraid to seek help through acquaintances or connections either, because Chen Quanguo, the secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Committee of the CCP, has decreed that: “Whoever dares to let anyone out of the camps, your entire family will be thrown in, too!”
Reported by Li Zaili
Li Zaili (uses pseudonyms for security reasons), born in Xinjiang in 1982, went to the United States to study at the age of 16. After graduating from university, Li returned to Xinjiang and worked in journalism. In 2014, Xinjiang authorities started detaining large numbers of Muslims in “transformation through education camps.” Learning of that, he left his original position and began independently collecting and organizing information related to “transformation through education camps,” and submitted articles for publication in overseas media outlets. After Bitter Winter was founded in May 2018, Li Zaili became a special correspondent of Bitter Winter covering Xinjiang, Xizang and some other regions in China.