Voices From XinJiang: Bitter Winter Interviews Victims of Persecution

Three victims tell stories of ordinary persecution for the Muslims, arrested simply for growing a beard, wearing a headscarf or reading the Quran.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region was established in 1955. History, however, has proved that it is “autonomous” in name only. There is no “autonomy” for the Muslims. The Uyghurs are forbidden to speak in their mother tongue, men cannot grow beards, and women cannot wear headscarves. Most religious activities have been banned. Nearly a million Uyghurs are detained in the dreaded “transformation through education camps,” in a repressive frenzy reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution.

Voices From XinJiang: Bitter Winter Interviews Victims of Persecution
fdecomite / CC BY 2.0

A Bitter Winter reporter has conducted interviews in three Xinjiang households (all names are pseudonyms), collecting family stories about the repression.

Father Arrested for Growing a Beard

Erkin is a junior high school student who dropped out of school out of fear of persecution. He reports that, on May 16, 2018, he and his family suddenly lost contact with his father. Several days later, a family member received a phone call and learned that the father had been arrested. Erkin asked to see his father, but the police refused.

Erkin told our reporter: “My dad called and said that he was working in the fields when he was taken by the police, just because he had a beard, even if his beard was short. Sixty or seventy other people were arrested along with him. Some women were arrested for wearing headscarves. All the men in our village have been arrested.”

Erkin revealed that, since 2016, five of his relatives have been arrested. “Two of my uncles were taken away by three police officers in September 2017 because they had long beards. Another uncle was arrested sometimes around August 2017 while he was selling jujubes in Urumqi, and he is still being held in the Urumqi Detention Center. Another uncle was taken away around August 2016, and was sentenced to five years. There is no one left in the family to work, there is no one to take care of the land. We have a flock of sheep that no one can watch over. There is nothing we can do about our family members being arrested and we don’t dare say anything about it. If we say the wrong thing, we’ll be arrested too. We are just filled with silent anger.”

Choking up, he was unable to say anything further. His father and uncles are still being held in custody. Erkin is still afraid to return to his hometown for fear of being arrested by the police, and he does not dare call his family, either.

15 Members of a Family Arrested for Praying and Reading the Quran

Hai Chunyan is a Muslim from Huocheng County in Xinjiang’s Yining City. Within just six months, 15 members of her family members were arrested by the local authorities and put into “transformation through education camps.”

Hai Chunyan said that three of her sons were arrested while participating in a religious service in February 2018 and were then taken to the Huocheng Detention Center. They will probably be sentenced soon.

That same month, her brother-in-law, as well as five of his sons and three of his daughters, were at home praying and reading the Quran when they were arrested for the crime of organizing a “gang gathering”. His daughter-in-law was also taken away, because of the criticism of the government found on her cellphone. Ten members of his family were taken away to the Huocheng Detention Center and to “transformation through education camps.”

In March 2018, Hai Chunyan’s nephew was arrested by the police as they caught him reading the Quran, and is still being held in the Huocheng Detention Center.

In December 2017, her sister’s son-in-law was arrested by local government authorities for reading the Quran and engaging in worship; he was taken to a local “transformation through education camp.”

Not a single one of these 15 members of Hai Chunyan’s family has been released. She recently heard that three of her sons are going to receive sentences. Her blood pressure spiked, and she has now fallen ill.

A Mother’s Grief for Her Arrested Son

A Uyghur woman in the city of Hami told our reporter that on February 21, 2018, her son Bai Yong received a call from a village cadre requiring him to go to study at the “Loving Heart School”.

On February 23, he went to the village committee in accordance with the cadre’s notification, but after more than three months he has yet to return home. After inquiring many times, his mother finally learned that several officers had been waiting for him at the village committee. He was arrested after he arrived there and then taken to a camp to undergo “transformation through education.” He still has not been released.

When her son’s arrest is mentioned she cannot hold back her tears. She said: “They took my son away for ‘education’ without any grounds, and it will be five months soon. When I went to visit him, I heard a government officer say that those there for education were all like my son, people with problems, but they couldn’t say what problem my son had. I’ve heard that some of the ones locked up have also received sentences. Some have gotten three or five years, some have gotten seven or eight years. I don’t know when my son will come back, and I don’t know if he’ll be sentenced. The Communist Party has the final say, so if they say you have a problem, you have a problem, and they’ll just take you away.”

She also told our reporter that, since her son’s arrest, their family’s repair shop had to shut down, so that her daughter-in-law and grandson have lost their source of income. They are also concerned for Bai Yong and are constantly living in fear.

All our interviewees stated that today in Xinjiang, men and women, old and young, including the very elderly, if they express the slightest dissatisfaction with government policies or wear long robes, cover their faces, grow a long beard, or wear a headscarf, are arrested and taken to “transformation through education camps.” One million or more have been arrested. The elderly have no one to care for them, and children have been practically orphaned. Those who have been locked up are undergoing torture, and many have suffered so much that they had nervous breakdowns or even committed suicide. One of our sources stated that the wails of pain are covering the land of Xinjiang, that the Communist government’s authoritarian rule is totally lawless, and has brought endless calamity and suffering to the people.