From book "The 100 Camp Testimonies"


Omir Bekali
Former Inernees

Omer Bekali

I was born, of Uyghur mother and Kazakh father, on April 30, 1976 in Pichan County, Turpan. I studied in Uyghur schools.

In 2006, I moved to Kazakhstan due to the injustice and persecution in East Turkistan, and later became a Kazakh citizen. My ethnicity is indicated as Kazakh on my passport. I renounced my Chinese citizenship, after which I frequently traveled back and forth between the two countries for business purposes.

On March 23, 2017 I went to Ürümchi to attend a conference organized by Chinese travel agencies with regard to the upcoming Astana Expo (from June 10 to September 10, 2017). Two days after I went to Pichan to visit my family for a day. At around ten o’clock in the morning of March 26, five policemen came to our house, who didn’t have any written police warrant. I explained to them that I had only come to visit my parents and planned to go back to Almaty the next day. They said that they needed to talk to me and it would be over in half an hour. I was then taken to Dighar police station, where we talked for almost two hours. I contacted my wife and told her that I was at the police station, after which my cell phone was deactivated, i.e., my contact with the outside world was cut off. They showed me on their computer a warrant for my arrest, issued by the Karamay Public Security Bureau.

I was handcuffed and a black hood was put over my head, which I was told was the standard procedure. Three policemen took me to a place like a hospital, where a full body medical checkup was carried out while I still had the black hood on. The medical checkup entailed a blood draw/test, urine test, lung function test, and ultrasound, which in all lasted two hours. I was terrified because I thought they might cut me open and remove my organs. After the checkup I was taken to a police station where I was given an eye exam, and the examiner held my eyelids open while instructing me to look left, right, up and down. They also took photographs of the various positions of my irises, my fingerprints, and recorded my voice, which in all lasted one hour or so.

It was 8 p.m. or so when I was taken to a detention center, where I had to change into a prison uniform, and was then locked up in a cell with thirteen other young Uyghur men, who were in shackles. I was held there, also in shackles, for eight days. On the last day, three men, one Uyghur and two Han Chinese, came from Karamay to question me. They alleged that I had assisted people with their visa applications and taken money from them for their passport applications. They then said that they would carry out further investigation on me in Karamay.

On April 3, I was taken from Pichan to Karamay in handcuffs and shackles, but they removed the black hood as I felt unwell. I was brought to the Jerenbulaq police station and put in a basement cell, with one hand chained high up to the metal bar of the door. The next day, the police chief, a Han Chinese man whose surname was Liu, interrogated me. I will never forget what he said: “Kazakhstan is equal to my [the word that means male genitals]”. The interrogation continued with my life in focus, and since I had nothing to hide, I told them everything. They kept asking which organizations I was in contact with, what my purpose for entering the country was, what services I had provided to people in Karamay, how I assisted people who left Karamay for Turkey, Syria and Europe, and how much money I gave to various organizations.

They interrogated and tortured me for four days (including nighttime), using various torture techniques. They strapped me into the “tiger chair”, hung me from the ceiling, and chained me to the wall and beat me with plastic, wooden, electric batons and metal wire whip. They also inserted needles under my nails. I could take naps of 10 or 15 minutes only when I was in the tiger chair. They forced me to accept and confess to three crimes: inciting terrorism, organizing terrorist activities, and covering up for terrorists. I denied everything.

On April 7, I was once again taken to a hospital for a full physical examination. I was then taken to an internment camp in Karamay and put in the cell 209, in which there were about 35 people. It was roughly an 18-square- meter cell, where seven of the internees were chained to the bed and I became the eighth, while the rest were in shackles. Given the cell size, there should be no more than twelve internees, but in reality we were somewhere between thirty-five and forty. Until July 16, I was held in that cell in the above- mentioned state for three months and ten days, without fresh air nor shower. After July 16, everyone was put on shackles that weighed seven kilograms.

We had no rights at all, i.e., I was not allowed to contact a lawyer, the Kazakhstani consulate, nor my parents. We were treated worse than animals. The food there was very bad: We were served nothing but steamed buns, watery rice porridge, and celery soup. We sang red songs (hongge 红歌 ‘Chinese patriotic songs’) and were subjected to political indoctrination. Seven to ten men aged between 16 and 40 would disappear from one cell on a weekly basis. We were asked to stretch out our arms to get our blood drawn once a month, and we didn’t know how much blood they drew, but it lasted fifteen to twenty minutes. I spent one month in solitary confinement, i.e., in a three-square-meter cell.

It made me think that we were brought to the camp to be killed, not to be re-educated at all. A man named Yunus Abliz from the neighboring cell died of torture and was taken away. The 26-year-old nephew of Yolwas, the deputy head of the municipal police, also died of torture in the camp. After his death, the camp remained silent for a month.

Having no clue as to my whereabouts, my wife wrote to the Kazakh Foreign Ministry and the United Nations, and talked to the media. My mother and sister in Turpan went to the Kazakh consulate and asked them to look for me, a Kazakh citizen. At the end of July 2017, a Kazakh diplomat from Beijing along with another diplomat from Ürümchi came to see me. The shackles on my feet were temporarily removed. When I tried to get up, I couldn't keep my balance and walked like a drunk person. We talked for about an hour and a half. The Kazakh diplomats explained to me my rights, emphasizing that the camp guards had no right to torture me; and if I got sick, I should get medical treatment, and I should be given three meals a day.

On November 4, I was asked to sign a document which stated the terms and conditions for my release. I signed that document as I was so eager to leave that hell and see the outside world. I was moved to another internment camp, where I stayed for 20 days. I suppose the reason that they moved me to another camp was its food there, which was a little better than the previous camp. They might have wanted me to regain some weight before my release as my weight had dropped from 115 kg to 60 kg.

This new camp was divided into three areas: A, B and C. I stayed in the C area with more than 2,000 other people. We went out for dinner together for the first week. After the second week, for some unknown reason, we were banned from going outside. I was put in a 22-square-foot cell, probably suitable to hold 14 to 16 people, which I shared with the other 45 to 50 internees. Cameras were installed inside the cell and they monitored us around the clock. They periodically drew our blood, and forced us to take some unknown medication. They removed those who experienced some changes in their bodies, such as tumor growth. Young men between the ages of 16 and 40 would frequently disappear, among whom were businessmen, cadres and employees. For example, there was one internee named Tahir, who was a teacher at No. 2 High School; and another named Atawullah, who was a lawyer. I even saw a father and his sons in the camp. The age range of the internees was 16 to 70. During this period, I was moved 4 or 5 times from one cell to another. Roughly five days before I left, Tahir was taken away on a stretcher.

All of us were innocent. Some of the pretexts for our extrajudicial internment were as follows: Having an extremist ideology; tendency to commit terrorism; having visited one of the 26 “sensitive” countries, and in possession of a passport.

The government employees were accused of being “two-faced,” the most convenient accusation at the regime’s disposal. Those who had finished serving their prison terms were also sent to the internment camps. Once, I overheard communist cadres saying that it was time to bring in people who worked within the system. And then they started interning the doctors, teachers, and lawyers. There were over ten thousand men in the camp, 70 to 80% of whom being Uyghur and 20 to 30% being Kazakh.

In the camp, we slept from midnight to 6 a.m. In the morning, all quits must be folded symmetrically just like the Chinese soldiers do in a military, and failure to do so constitutes a failure in ideology and would be punished. At 7:30 a.m. we must attend the flag raising ceremony outdoors. After washing our faces but before breakfast, we sang red songs, e.g., “Without the Communist Party There is No New China,” and “Socialism is Good.” Right before taking our first bite of the day, we must say “Thanks to the party, thanks to the country, and thanks to the Chairman Xi; I wish him good health; long live Chairman Xi.” In the camp they taught us party guidelines, policies, ideology, and red songs. All lessons were taught in Mandarin and there was an exam every week.

During teaching, they would tell us about cases that had taken place in courts, and prison sentences that were given. This was to spread fear among us, a way to convey their message: Those who don’t follow the rules and conform to the communist party will pay a heavy price. While I was interned, I didn’t see anyone getting released from the camp. According to one cadre there, it would take at least five years to complete the “re-education”. There were young men who had already been locked up for two years. The camp guards would beat us hard with wooden batons if we showed any sign of disobedience.

I heard that there were two or three more internment camps in Karamay and another big one was being built. I also heard that the ethnic minority government employees also need to complete a “re-education” program to correct their ideology. The cadres informed their staff that it was a directive from the central government in Beijing, and no one had the power to do otherwise.

After repeated requests, on the seventh day in the new camp we finally got to take a shower, only that once. There were cameras installed everywhere both inside and outside the collective shower room. Just before I left, the doors of the cells were locked with chains despite the fact that they had auto-lock feature. I didn’t know the reason behind this sudden change. We couldn’t get medical treatment if we got sick. A cellmate named Dilshat Setiwaldi had a kidney problem due to heavy beatings, and he urinated blood. Another cellmate named Alim Awut had developed serious hemorrhoids. Neither of them got medical treatment. After my blood pressure went too high, I was given medicine, probably because I'm a Kazakh citizen.

I constantly asked them to give me a trial, shoot me, or release me, for which I was punished many times. The first time, the policemen put me up against the wall for 24 hours after they got tired of beating me. The second time, they strapped me into the tiger chair for 24 hours after having beaten me. The third time, they placed me in solitary confinement for 24 hours with no food. The fourth time, they forced me to stay outside in shorts in winter. There was another type of punishment that I was not subjected to, which was the harshest and many died of it: One was kept from neck down in the water prison.

On November 24, 2017 they released me. I was too weak to walk. They took me to my sister's home. The next day, a policewoman named Wang Xiaomi gave me a 15-day visa for CN¥320, and told me that I should be thankful that I was still alive. She also threatened me by pointing out the fact that my parents, siblings and my wife’s siblings still lived in China, and I should leave for Kazakhstan quietly. After my release, I stayed in Karamay for two days and regained a little bit of my energy, and then I went to visit my parents in Pichan.

I told my father that I would go to Beijing to let the higher authorities know about the injustice I was subjected to. However, at the time I did not know that the orders in connection with the massive internment drive came directly from the central government itself, i.e., from Xi Jinping himself. My father told me it would be a useless attempt, suggesting I should instead tell the truth in Kazakhstan and to the United Nations. My parents were well aware of the fact that they would be in trouble if I spoke out, but said to me regardless, “We’ve lived our lives, and you have to expose these atrocities.”

Upon arrival at the border control, I was interrogated and threatened again, starting from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with no water or food provided.

On December 7, 2017, three days after landing in Kazakhstan, I had surgery on my face. On December 11, at the office of Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights Organization I called out Kazakh people to stand up against the injustice and atrocities committed by the Chinese regime, including extralegal and extrajudicial incarceration in the internment camps. I was interviewed by Radio Azattyq (in Kazakhstan) on December 27, 2017. I spoke out on Radio Free Asia. The Associated Press Beijing correspondent Gerry Shih contacted me on March 8, 2018.

Standing up against the Chinese regime has its consequences. On March 9, my sister was detained by the local police. On March 16, my mother was detained.

Gerry Shih from the Associated Press came to Kazakhstan and interviewed me for seven consecutive days. Two hours after the news report was published on May 18, 2018, a Russian and a Kazakh security agents came to my house and conducted a full search. I worried about my safety, so I was forced to fled Kazakhstan and arrived in Turkey on May 20. Four months later, I was able to bring my family to Turkey. In Turkey I was able to tell the media the details that were not disclosed when I was in Kazakhstan because my safety in Kazakhstan was not quite guaranteed.

In November 2018 I went to Japan and gave accounts of the Chinese oppression for 11 days. I later went to the Czech Republic for I was invited to give a talk about my experiences in China’s internment camps. I gave witness statement to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on March 17, 2019. I also gave interviews and witness statement in Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden. I decided to stay in the Netherlands because I did not feel safe in Turkey, and I later reunited with my family in the Netherlands.

Because of my activism, China has persecuted my family. My brother, Abdurahman Bekri, was a millionaire businessman who graduated from Xinjiang University with a degree in law. He was sent to an internment camp and came out as a physically disabled person. My mother and my sister also suffered in the camps. My father was detained on April 24, 2018 and tortured to death on September 18, 2018. China may kill me one day, and I’m ready to die. As long as my soul is in my body, I will not cease to bear witness and testify against the oppression of my people. I believe the truth will ultimately prevail.