Coming home is usually a happy occasion. But for Uyghurs who work outside Xinjiang, every visit to the native region may end with detention in an internment camp.
by Ye Ling
For Uyghurs who live away from home for work, going back to Xinjiang to visit their families and friends doesn’t always mean a happy reunion. It feels more like a trap – as soon as they enter their family homes, they are at risk of being arbitrarily detained and sent for “re-education.”
Baki, an Uyghur Muslim from Xinjiang, was working as a street vendor in the southeastern province of Fujian when he received a phone call from a government official in his hometown a few months ago. He was ordered to return home before July 5 to apply for a migrant identity card, as per “uniform government regulation.”
This information has made Baki extremely worried; he feared that after returning home, he would be sent to one of the dreaded transformation through education camps. “Going home is easy, but it won’t be so easy to come back! The CCP is exerting rigorous control in Xinjiang now. I really don’t want to go back there,” Baki said while packing up his street stall.
The man said that he knows an imam who was arrested in May 2017 and detained in a camp; he hasn’t been released to date. Another imam was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Baki also has a good friend whose parents-in-law and wife’s elder brother were detained for hosting a Muslim guest.
The CCP regime has been building new transformation through education camps in Xinjiang and expanding the existing ones since the beginning of 2017. According to some calculations, up to three million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic minorities are detained in the camps, and more and more evidence shows that the detainees are subjected to various forms of torture and mistreatment.
Baki said that all males under the age of 40 in his hometown are being “re-educated” in transformation through education camps. “I believe in Islam, read the Quran, and speak the Arabic language. The government wants us to get rid of this. If I’m detained, I fear that even the only remaining Quran that I have in my heart will be gone under the CCP’s indoctrination.”
Perhaps sensing that he could never return to Fujian, Baki started packing up his belongings. “There are many things that I hadn’t had the time to take care of,” he said, looking at the belongings that he had purchased working so hard, almost crying with sadness.
Not far behind him, a billboard featuring Mao Zedong with large Chinese characters for “Clean Up Gang Crime and Eliminate Evil” was clearly visible, illuminated by the streetlights. Baki walked quickly to the billboard, clenched his fist, and forcefully struck it. He quietly cursed from the corner of his mouth: “Damn you, China,” clearly wanting to vent his pent-up emotions loudly, but not daring to do so. All he could do was suppress his anger and pound the billboard a couple of times with his fist.
The CCP’s policy to “transform” Uyghurs and the arrests of those close to him have brought Baki tremendous stress. He was scared to go home, fearing to be detained. His family paid 10,000 RMB (about $ 1,400) to the local government in Xinjiang on his behalf, hoping to postpone his mandatory return. However, in early September, he received another phone call from a patrol officer in his hometown, hastening him to return as soon as possible, or else his family could be implicated.
With no other choice, Baki has left Fujian. Nobody can tell if he will be able to return safely.
All Uyghurs who work in inland China could be forced to return to their hometown at any time for no reason at all. The fear of being locked up upon returning home follows them around like a shadow.
Ran Na, a woman from Xinjiang who works in another part of China, told Bitter Winter that her husband was locked up in a transformation through education camp after Xinjiang police summoned him back in June 2017.
“My husband did business in Fujian’s capital Fuzhou. He has always spoken good Mandarin, and he can speak Fukienese [the Min Chinese dialect of Fujian], too. When the government said they wanted to send him to ‘study,’ it was just a pretense,” said Ran Na, adding that her husband will be detained for at least two and a half years.
The woman can live and work outside of Xinjiang only under the guarantee of a family member. Police officers visit her current residence every week to question her; they also take photos of her every time. She is scared and doesn’t dare to think about what will happen in the future.
“It’s agonizing for me. All I can do is pray in my heart. If I didn’t have prayers to rely on, I would have a breakdown,” said Ran Na.
For safety reasons, all names used in this article are pseudonyms.