Over the years, Uyghur women have come forth to expose the horrors of Communist China’s internment camps, where they had to endure the worst possible offenses committed, including rape and forced sterilizations.
Such cries of human suffering have continued to make headlines across the world, painting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a perpetrator of rampant human rights abuses.
In shackles and shame
In the wake of an attack by Uyghur separatists in the Xinjiang region, the CCP has moved to snatch away Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities.
The CCP’s crackdown on these minorities has been widely reported — sources tell how the government forced prisoners into horrid acts of genocide, including forced labor, rape, mandatory birth control and sterilizations.
Even as the communist government continues to deny the oppression of its Muslim Uyghur community, many people have opened up and retold the harrowing experiences under the roofs of the camps where the atrocities are said to occur.
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Arrested in 2017, Tursunay Ziawudun was taken away from her home village, losing her passport to the authorities and sent to a nearby concentration camp — one of many where millions of men and women were corralled into for the purpose of “re-education” and “de-radicalization” by the CCP.
There, Ziawudun spent nine months being forced to sing communist songs of patriotism and to denounce her Muslim faith, she told the BBC. At first, Ziawudun had decent food and limited access to her food. However, in the first month after her arrest, she fainted after suffering stomach issues and was released to be treated in a hospital.
Her Kazakh husband was allowed to return home to his country, but Ziawudun was forced to remain trapped in Xinjiang, presumably in an attempt to prevent her from revealing her experiences.
“They sent me to the hospital,” Ziawudun said. “If they hadn’t I might have died.”
Then, Ziawudun would return to the internment camp a year later, where she was told to “complete her training.” Her hair was shaved – most likely to be sold as a wig – and had her earrings ripped right out, causing her great pain.
“They pulled it so hard that my ears were bleeding.” Ziawudun said.
Worse still, Ziawudun also recounted how she was “gang-raped” and her private parts were electrocuted, leaving scars that are a source of both pain and humiliation. She also fears that she will not be able to have children due to being force to take what she believes are sterilization pills.
Ziawudun recalled how she was kicked by police officers with their hard and heavy boots when they requested information about her husband.
“I was being [treated] like an animal.” she said. “You’re left with marks on your body that make you not want to look at yourself.”
Ziawudun fled Xinjiang in 2020 and is now living in the U.S. where she has been reunited with her husband. She stresses that other women like her shared the same fate she did in the camps, being removed from their cells “every night” to be raped by masked men.
Speaking to the media from Kazakhstan, she “lived in constant fear of being sent back to China,” fearing that she would be severely punished for revealing the abuse she experienced. With the CCP’s ongoing denial and attempts to sugarcoat their “re-education” policy, Ziawudun’s story may not be fully concrete.
However, travel documents and immigration records validate her claims. She was able to determine the exact camp in Xinyuan county (known to the Uyghurs as Kunes county) where she was sent to, using satellite imagery provided by the BBC. Her accounts of her time in that camp also seem to match with accounts from former detainees.
Atrocities spread throughout
Ziawudun also told how about 14 women were kept in one cell in the camp, forced to live in such poor conditions before each one of them got dragged out at night to be tortured and raped. They would later return to their cell devoid of life and spirit, “as if in a trance,” Ziawudun added.
Gulzira Auelkhan, who spent two and a half months in a forced labor camp, was detained for 18 months, forced to strip Uyghur women naked and handcuff them for Chinese men to abuse. She also said she was powerless to help her fellow detainees.
Auelkhan also told the New York Post that she had to spend two and a half months stitching leather gloves under heavy surveillance, paid only pennies per hour.
“There were cameras and police and you could not sit,” she said. “I worked constantly, 14 hours a day, and was yelled at so much that it began to feel normal.”
Like Ziawudun, Auelkhan also got political asylum in the U.S. in early 2021.
“They forced me to go into that room,” Auelkhan said. “They forced me to take off those women’s clothes and to restrain their hands and leave the room.”
Two teachers, Qelbinur Sedik and Sayragul Sauytbay, were forced to teach detainees the ways of the communist regime. They recounted how they would witness and hear the pain and suffering of the young girls and women held inside, filling them with pure dread.
Several nations, including the U.S. and Australia, have called for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics to be held in 2022. The boycott bars government officials, not athletes, from attending the Games.
However, Almas Nizamidin, husband of an Uyghur woman, says that it will not be enough.
“They shouldn’t join the Games, they shouldn’t even broadcast the sport on TV. As long as countries join the games, they are supporting the genocide,” he said.
Former journalist, Münevver Özuygur, who also fled from Xinjiang, said the road to recovery for Uyghur women is long, but she vows that they will slowly heal.
“The wounds are deep and unique to Uyghur women,” she said. “It will take a hundred years to heal their wounds. But we try our best to help and take one day at a time.”