Those who managed to escape tell the truth about the horror of the camps. The CCP compels their relatives to denounce them, those who don’t end up in jail.
by Ruth Ingram
A catalogue of sadistic brutality is reserved for the families of victims of the CCP’s internment regime who dare to speak out. Elaborate games of cat and mouse, humiliation and mental cruelty have characterized life for the families and dear ones of those taken from them at dead of night or simply vanished after being called in for questioning by police.
Witnesses giving evidence in June at the first session of the Uyghur Tribunal, were mercilessly humiliated and attacked by CCP-orchestrated panels of Xinjiang-based relatives and colleagues on national television, coerced into speaking against them.
The three who testified on behalf of their relatives during the second session, represent the many Uyghurs and Kazakhs among the diaspora who have found it impossible to get to the truth about the fate of their loved ones, and dared to come forward.
A young bride hears that her husband of barely a year will not be coming back for twenty-five years. He begs her to wait for him. A brother studying in Japan is broken during a forced video call seeing the swollen neck and weakened body of an elder brother forced to denounce his so-called anti-China activities. The message was clear, spy for China and inform on his Uyghur colleagues in Japan, or be prepared never to see his brother again. A son, heartbroken by the disappearance of his father, a prominent Uyghur intellectual, silent for four years, is campaigning for the release of hundreds of other Uyghur academics who have also vanished over the past four years. He is crushed by the trickle of news that has confirmed the deaths of 43 of them, either in captivity or shortly after their release. Many of them were in their seventies or eighties.
Exiles who live in the democratic world, live a half life of waiting and hoping. There might be an occasional glimmer of light during a staged telephone call, only to be snatched away and darkness descend once more. They are threatened by the CCP, ridiculed and character-assassinated by loved ones who are forced to parade on state media to discredit their evidence, and live with the daily torture of guilt, self recrimination and doubt wondering how best to help. Very few of them ever manage to move on.
Bahram Sintash’s father was everything the state could have wanted from a Uyghur citizen. He was a fluent Mandarin speaking, prominent Uyghur intellectual, and former editor-in-chief of the Communist Party-controlled Uighur journal “Xinjiang Civilization.” A CCP member, he was known for selecting works by the region’s most influential writers on Uyghur culture, history, politics, and social development for publication. All his work was approved and passed Party censorship with flying colors.
“As a retired 71-year-old who spent decades building a professional career, he is not in need of further ‘vocational training,’” said Sintash, stressing the fact that he had always worked under strict government scrutiny. “To publish important works on Uyghur culture and Uyghur society in the magazine, he always had to know the red line in the eyes of the government at that time. He had to work very close to the red line to publish those important works and sensitive topics from Uyghur authors.” He labored without incident for twenty-five years before retiring in 2011.
Six years later in 2017 the “red line” suddenly moved, and violators were retrospectively sanctioned. Sintash now has no idea whether his father is alive or dead. A constant reminder of the danger his father is daily are the stories of deaths of his colleagues and close friends coming out of the camps.
Mehray Mezensof’s mother found the perfect match for her daughter, whom she gave birth to and raised in Australia. Through a matchmaking site she found Mirzat Taher, three years her senior, living in Urumqi. They met in Turkey where he went to study in 2014, married in Urumqi in 2017, and planned a future together in Australia. Two days before they were about to fly out, he was taken away by police, tortured, and interrogated for six months. A series of false alarms, hope raising telephone and video calls proved to be part of the psychological tactics to break detainees, and they did not see each other again for two years.
Endless memorization of Communist ideology, national songs, and self criticisms, combined with meagre rations, unhygienic and humiliating sanitary arrangements filled his days. “Detainees were told they would never go home, they would never see their loved ones again, and the only way they would get out was in a body bag,” she said. Meals which were passed through a small opening in the door were only given after detainees knelt on the ground and sang a song. “Anyone who couldn’t or wouldn’t sing the song was left to starve.”
Hooded and bent double in shackles, prisoners were transferred between facilities, medical examinations were carried out on arrival, and nights were spent listening to the screams of those undergoing torture in neighboring cells.
Daily reporting to the police characterized his eventual release, combined with harassing phone calls and random summons to their headquarters. When Mehray’s six month visa came to an end, she was forced to return to Australia but in May 2020 their correspondence came to an abrupt end. She later heard he had been released for a month, but taken again by police who had travelled 600 kms especially to arrest him. Since September 2020 there has been complete silence.
Through contacts in Urumqi, she heard this April that he had been sentenced to 25 years. His crime, involvement in separatist activities while in Turkey, which he denies.
Khalmat Rozakhon decided to stay on in Japan after completing a university degree in 2019. In May 2020, he had a surprise call from his brother in Xinjiang. There were obvious sign of his having been beaten on his face and neck, and security officials were lurking in the background. His brother vehemently denied torture and urged Rozakhon not to speak against the CCP. “Don’t go to protest,” he had urged his brother, “the policy of Xi Jinping is good, China’s policy is good.”
One of the officials made it clear that in exchange for information about the activities of the Uyghur Association in Tokyo, his brother’s safety would be secured. He also promised to help expedite his Japanese residency through high level contacts in the embassy. “‘We want to be your friend,’ the official had said, but his tone was intimidating,” said Rozakhon. “The last 30 minutes of that call made me feel like being burned in hell fire,” he said.
He pretended to go along with the police and set up a further interview, but determined to expose the activities and duplicity of the CCP, he arranged for Japanese media to record the video call and broadcast it to the country. He was well aware of the dangers to his family of going public, but he felt he was left with no alternative. “I have no intention to become a hero. The only way of saving my brother is to let the whole word know the truth,” he said. “They are taking my brother hostage and making me do things against my will.”
“The world is realizing the evil nature of China,” he said, quoting the case of Mehray Erkin who returned from Japan at the request of her family and died in detention. “I trust the only way to safeguard the safety of our families in East Turkestan is through letting the world know the real situation.”