In a letter sent to Bitter Winter, an ethnic Kazakh from Xinjiang tells about persecution, humiliation, and torture.
[Editor’s note]: This is a letter Bitter Winter received from an ethnic Kazakh man who claims he has been recently released from a prison in Xinjiang. We publish a literal translation of the original text. In order to protect the author, a pseudonym has been substituted for his real name, and the text’s content has been slightly abridged and edited. The details are similar to other stories of transformation through education camps we have collected, and we regard the letter as generally believable. From our investigations, we are satisfied that the channels through which the letter was sent to us are operated by real ethnic Kazakhs.
My name is Asan. I was recently released from a prison, sometimes called a “camp,”, but for now I’m still in Xinjiang. In accordance with their [the CCP’s] usual practice, it is highly likely that I will be sent back to prison again. Thus, I would like to tell everyone about my experience in prison. They may arrest me, but I want the international community to know what I witnessed. All of these records are true. If I can stay alive, I’m willing to testify to the veracity of my words.
Imprisoned for a traffic violation
I was taken to the traffic police brigade because I violated traffic regulations. After arriving at the traffic police brigade, they said that I had a record of other violations and that an investigation would be required. Afterwards, they took me away. They tied me onto an iron stool and kept interrogating me: “We found out about your criminal record. You’re hiding things and must confess. If you confess, you will be dealt with leniently. If you resist, you will be dealt with severely.” After I told them that in fact, I never broke any laws, they knocked me unconscious with an electric baton.
When I awakened, I discovered that my head was covered with a black hood, and that there were other people like me sitting in a vehicle. We were taken to a jail. All of our hands and feet were shackled. My hands were cuffed behind my back. Each of us had a police officer assigned to us. They handed us over to the prison guards.
Harsh living environment
Inside [the prison], we had to strip naked to undergo an inspection. The prison guards gave me a prison uniform to wear. Afterwards, I was sent to a prison cell with 56 people inside. It is understood that all the people there, including me, were prisoners who committed minor offenses. There are two rows of small wooden benches in the middle of the cell. Everyone sits on the wooden benches during the day. At night, those who are physically strong sleep on the benches; those who are frail or ill, sleep on the floor.
There are two buckets in each room. One is used for urination, and the other for defecation. When relieving ourselves in the morning, those who are strong and healthy rush to relieve themselves first, while the weak ones are the last to do so. When the last few people relieve themselves, excrement often gets on their bodies since the small buckets have filled up. Some people develop infections as a result.
Inside the prison, our meals consisted of steamed buns and cold tap water.
Intellectuals Also Detained
We were unable to communicate normally and had to speak to each other quietly. Through quiet conversations, I learned that there were people from all walks of life inside the prison, such as professors, translators, TV hosts, businessmen, government workers, historians, local Christians, shamanists, atheists, and CCP members. The only reason they were there is because of their identity as members of ethnic minorities.
During my incarceration, the prison guards didn’t let us go out, but I could see a poster on the opposing wall through a small window on the cell door. The poster depicted a photo of an elderly man in his seventies or eighties and a young man in his twenties or thirties, both of whom are smiling while holding little red flags in their hands. At the bottom of the poster are the words “Excellent students” and “elite at the study center.” The prison guards taught us to sing Communist songs and songs praising Xi Jinping. They told us, “If you learn to recite them well, you can be released from prison.”
Horrors of Torture: “Suspended Like Fresh Meat”
The prison system is awful. If ethnic Han prisoners come in (for drug abuse, bribery, or other offenses), they often fight with the Kazakh prisoners. One Han prisoner said, “All of this is because you’re disobedient, which hurts us as well. Because of you, they have locked us up, too.” In most cases, the prison guards do not interfere when Han prisoners beat up us Kazakh prisoners. If a Kazakh prisoner hits a Han prisoner, the prison guards will knock the Kazakh prisoner unconscious.
There is also a torture chamber in the prison. Inside the room, there is a row of iron hooks used specially for hanging meat in slaughterhouses. They made us stand on small stools while wearing handcuffs. They placed iron hooks between the handcuffs, and then moved the stools away, leaving us suspended like fresh meat. They used wooden sticks to whip our row of “fresh meat,” like whacking a hanging blanket. At the time, they whipped me to the point that I fainted. When I woke up, I discovered that I had been taken back to my cell.
Inside the prison, our circumstances were the “best,” since the “crimes” we committed were “minor offenses.” Imams and people associated with religion were imprisoned on the floor below us. There were not many people there, with about 20 to 30 people in each cell. On that floor, there is a torture chamber for imams. In the middle of the chamber there is a small stool on which the imam sits, with four Han Chinese prisoners sitting in the four corners. The imam must place his hands on his knees and raise his head to look at the ceiling. He must sit upright. The four prisoners watch and monitor the imam. If the imam’s neck gets tired, if his body is a bit tilted, or if his lips move slightly (such that it is believed that he is chanting scripture softly to himself), then the Han prisoners will rebuke the imam. If any of the Han prisoners performs well, his sentence can be reduced, so they are very proactive in tormenting religious people.
A “Mating Room for Rams and Ewes”
There is a room in the prison that the prison guards refer to as the “mating room for rams and ewes.” Once every six months, prisoners’ wives (who haven’t been arrested) come to this room to “unite” with their husbands. However, surveillance cameras are installed in the room. The prison guards watch them from the monitoring room and taunt them when they come out. During my time there, several Kazakh women “united” with their husbands in this insulting manner.
Beaten to Death
One 65-year-old Kazakh man was beaten to death. Less than 30 minutes after he died, a post-mortem report came out claiming that his “death was due to high blood pressure.” This illustrates how such situations are part of regular routine operations. Afterwards, the body of the deceased man was returned to his family. There were bruises left behind on his body from when he had been beaten, and his sternum was sunken inwards. When seeing his body, the family quietly took it away, as they greatly feared that they, too, would be imprisoned if they made any accusations against them [the prison guards].
Those Released Live in Fear
After I was released from prison, acquaintances ran away in fear as soon as they saw me. They worried that they would be locked up for talking to me. Everyone is scared. They don’t know when they will be arrested or for what reason, but they know that they will be locked up sooner or later.
More than ten thousand people, who, like me, have committed “minor offenses,” have been released in the region where I stay. According to the Chinese government, we were “excellent students at the study center” who became “fluent in the national language [Chinese].” But we cannot leave our community. It was reported that an international organization was coming to investigate. Perhaps it is for this reason that the authorities have released us. After the international organization will complete its investigation, the rumor is that underground prisons will be built under the present jails, and these ten thousand or more people will be locked up again in the underground prisons. Construction has already begun on some underground prisons. Some acquaintances who have been released from prison have already started to go crazy.
Perhaps I will be killed for disseminating this information, but it’s all a matter of death anyway. I hope that I can convey this information to the international community. I’m willing to testify about it.
The prison where I was incarcerated was not a study center at all, but a totalitarian concentration camp for local ethnic minorities. I hope that international organizations will come soon to investigate. If totalitarian concentration camps aren’t closed soon, Uyghur and Kazakh ethnic groups will face genocide.
*“Asan” is the pseudonym we assigned, to protect his security, to an ethnic Kazakh whose letter was sent to us through a channel operated by ethnic Kazakhs whose identity we confirmed to our satisfaction.