I was born in Ili Prefecture on December 24, 1966.
After successfully completing my compulsory education (elementary and junior high), I was admitted to the Ürümchi Petroleum Institute in 1984. After my college graduation, I started working in Karamay in 1988.
In mid-November 2016, a colleague of mine named Shohret back in East Turkistan informed me via WeChat that I needed to return to my country to apply for my retirement in person before December 2. I had been in France for almost 10 years, and I had never participated in any anti-China demonstrations or political activities and had not experienced any harassment from the Chinese police during my 4 trips back to China, so I decided to return and submit my retirement application in person.
I arrived at Ürümchi airport on November 25, 2016. Five days later on November 30, I went to the office to deal with my retirement formalities. Fifteen minutes after my arrival, the police officers came to the office and asked me to go with them to the local police station to answer some questions. At the police station they asked me to put all my personal belongings including all my jewelry in a locker, and then in the interview room (a normal room) they asked me to tell them about my 10 years in France, including my daughter's school and my husband's job.
After answering all the questions truthfully, I asked them, “Now that it's over, can I go back?” The police said, “It's just beginning.” Then I was asked to go to another room and answer all the questions all over again. They also made notes on a computer. Finally, I was asked to sign. When I finished signing, they showed me a picture of my daughter holding our East Turkistanian flag at a protest in France, and asked me if I knew anything about it. At that time, I was really worried because it was against the Chinese law. I explained that, “This is a photo of my daughter participating in a protest in France without my knowledge during my return to China back in 2009. When I went back, I saw this photo and strictly criticized my daughter and asked her not to participate in any demonstration ever again. She hasn't participated in any events since then.” They made notes on that too. After I answered all of their questions, I asked them, “Is it over now? Am I allowed to leave?” Their response was, “This has just started.” Then, they took me to another room and asked all those questions all over again. They continued to make notes on a computer and forced me to sign on the document, which I did. I was brought to the police station around 9 a.m. and was allowed to leave around 5:30 p.m. They confiscated my passport and then asked me to fill out my address and contact information about where I stayed at while visiting my family.
I only knew one of the three police officers, Yarmemet, who worked at the Kunlun Police Station and was responsible for keeping me in check. For example, if I wanted to go to another city, I needed to inform him of this in advance, and without his permission I could not go. One day he called me and told me that I could get my passport back. I was very happy to go to the police station on January 29, 2017. After waiting for about two hours, three Uyghur police officers came to me, who names were Subinur (female), Osmanjan (male), and I can’t remember the last one. They took pictures of me and registered my fingerprints. I was then taken to a hospital to take basic medical tests, such as a urine test, blood test, and recorded my voice and so forth.
After having done all that, I was arrested and sent to a detention center where they forced me to sign a document, which accused me of disrupting social order and trying to incite separatism. At first, I refused to sign it, but I realized soon enough that I had to because I was dealing with an authoritarian regime.
After signing the document, I was taken to a room to change into my prison uniform, and they took my mug shot, i.e. with one front-view photo, and one side-view. My weight and height were also measured. Then they handcuffed and shackled me, and took me to a holding cell. Initially, there were 9 people in the cell, and by the end of that month the number increased to more than 30. The next morning after breakfast (i.e. thin rice porridge with a piece of steamed bun), around 9:30 a.m., a black hood was put over my head and my hands were handcuffed behind my back, and I was taken to the so-called “interrogation room”.
They asked me the very same questions that I had answered multiple times already back at the police station, which lasted a whole day. During the interrogation, they asked me if my husband had sought political asylum in France, to which I answered truthfully, “Yes.” I did not lie, and gave truthful answers. After the interrogation, I spent 4 months in the detention center, whose conditions were very bad: the blanket was awful, the meal was the same every day (i.e. thin porridge with steamed buns), and we were in shackles every day. The weather in Karamay was very cold, sometimes even reaching minus 30 Celsius, so we often caught colds. We were forced to memorize the rules and regulations of the detention center, and in general the conditions were very harsh. On April 20, 2017 I was moved to another cell.
On a Monday, June 5, 2017, I was transferred along with other 40 people or so to an internment camp located in Jayran Bulak. I could not find the camp on the map when I returned to France, but it was located in the middle of the local district prosecutor's office and the district court.
As we left the detention center, we took off our prison uniforms and put on our own clothes. There was a changing room at the entrance of the internment camp (the Chinese regime called it a re-education camp), so we changed into the camp uniforms. After changing our clothes, we were assigned to different cells, not different from those of prison. At first, we did two weeks of military training (our age range was 17 to 70), during which the elder internees often collapsed because the training was too hard for them.
The windows of the cells were sealed off from the inside with iron and steel, and we could see the outside only through tiny round holes made on the steel board. Every day we were forced to repeat the cell rules and various songs that praised the Chinese Communist Party, and there were lessons in Chinese, politics and history. We had written and oral exams every Friday. At first, we were scared when our cellmates fainted, got sick, or were taken away by the ambulance, but as time went by we got used to seeing all this.
Initially, we could chat with our cellmates, but after the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (held between October 18 and 24, 2017), the rules and regulations in the camp became stricter and stricter, and we could no longer chat with our cellmates. Even going to the toilet during class breaks was overseen, and we had to take turns to go to the toilet. Once a month we had the opportunity to contact our families or relatives by phone, but each time we were accompanied by the police or the camp guard, and they recorded all our conversations in detail. The language of communication must be in Chinese, i.e. it was forbidden to communicate in Uyghur. The use of other languages was also forbidden in the camp, only Chinese was allowed, and if anyone was caught speaking a language other than Chinese, he or she would be severely punished.
The teachers in the camp were from different ethnic backgrounds, and I still remember many of their names: Nasin, Hao Xiaolou, Mikhray, Gheni, Hu Xi, Güzel, Rishat, Yang Pengpeng and others. Each teacher was responsible for four or five students; they did not teach but were responsible for maintaining order. For instance, when I had high blood pressure, one teacher was responsible for buying me the medicine from the pharmacy. According to the camp rules, we had to keep a journal, and every three to four days the teachers would sign the journals for approval. Obviously, we couldn't write about the real situation in the camp, only praising the Communist Party and China.
After being locked up for a year in the camp, the camp wardens, Gao Zhuren and Liu Dao, informed us that we would be taken to court and prosecuted. As the number of people coercively brought to the camp increased, the camp capacity was being tested. Our camp could hold up to about 300 people, and we heard that two other camps had been built in the area. On October 18, 2018, after dinner, our so-called classroom teachers gave us black bags, into which we were asked to put our personal belongings. Then we were taken to a hall where they made us take off our clothes, and they ordered us sit and rise many times while being in the nude. They ordered us to put on our clothes again, and finally we were taken downstairs, where the police officers had black hoods in their hands. At about 1 or 2 a.m. all of us internees were put black hoods over our heads and we got on the bus. After about 15 minutes’ drive we arrived at a new internment camp (called Qi Sansi).
The rules and regulations of the new camp were very similar to those of the previous camps, where the only characteristic that set it apart was that there was a hall that was used as a makeshift courtroom. From November 5, 2018 they started putting us the internees on trial, about three to four internees per day, although we were innocent.
Before the trial, the teachers gave us a lecture, telling us not to be afraid and that those were just show trials. Circa November 22, 2018, they suddenly informed me that it was my turn to be put on “trial.” Those who were due to be tried that day followed the four teachers and waited outside. They took us to a big room that was used for the show trial. It is worth mentioning that it was not a real courtroom: The prosecutor sat next to the judges, and the defense layer was not present. I saw many police officers, and someone videotaping the whole thing. One Chinese teacher gave them an account of how we behaved in the camp, and one Kazakh policeman recounted our accusations. They did not wear formal uniforms. Behind me sat my sister and two other people from the neighborhood committee, and my relatives sat in the last row. It was made known there that my crime was that I sold my apartment back in 2006, and I helped to renounce the Chinese citizenship of three people, my family members.
At the “court,” one woman got a 3-year sentence and I was sentenced to seven years in prison. I was charged with having renounced the citizenship for my husband and my daughters. I was also accused of selling my apartment and not showing loyalty to China. And that I did nothing when my daughter took part in an anti-China demonstration in France.
I had only two minutes to defend myself. I explained to them that I loved my homeland and had never been disloyal to it my whole life. In fact, I had not changed my own citizenship, despite having lived in France for more than 10 years. With respect to my husband and my daughters, they changed their citizenship because China does not accept dual citizenship, so my family members wanted to keep their French citizenship. The fact that my daughter participated in an anti-China demonstration was not my responsibility.
After receiving the “verdict,” they told me that it was a simulation of a real trial. If it had taken place for real, I would have really received seven-year sentence. Therefore, I should be glad that I ended up in a “re-education” camp, where I had a chance to learn and build up my loyalty to China. They said if I delivered good results during my training in the camp, I did not have to serve all seven years. It all depended on me. I promised them that I would make an effort in my training. After receiving the verdict, I had to sign a document. I was nevertheless terrified because of the punishment of seven years in prison.
After the trial, I got 15 minutes to talk with my sister. They also asked me to sign on my confession paper. There was one lady who was sentenced to nine years because she went to Saudi Arabia. Another one sentenced to seven years because she visited Turkey. Yet another one was sentenced to 10 years because she wore hijab and sent money to someone in Turkey.
On December 23, 2018, a day before my birthday, my mother from Ghulja and my sister from Ürümchi were supposed to visit me, but it didn’t happen. One day before the visit, I was taken away in shackles, with a black hood over my head. After around 30 minutes’ drive, I was brought to another detention center, and they removed the black hood over my head and the shackles on my feet. Only then did I realize that it was a Karamay district detention center, not the one I was first sent to. When I entered the holding cell, I saw my former cellmates whom I met two years ago. They asked me what I was still doing there. We exchanged our stories with each other. I told them I might be released within a few days, but as the days went by, I started to think that I shouldn’t expect to be released any time soon. During our exchange, another female internee came to our cell, whose name was Arzigül. Her daughter lived in the Netherlands. The women who came the next day also had relatives living abroad. So, I understood the “logic” behind why we ended up in the detention center again.
After ten days, circa January 2019, in this district detention center, two policemen came to question me. I found out during the interrogation that they knew nothing about me. As the days went by, nothing major happened until March 4, 2019, where two different policemen or intelligence officers came to question me: Osmanjan and Dilmurat, both of whom were Uyghur. After a short interrogation, they left. The next day, one Kazakh intelligence officer came, whose name was Taskyn. I often heard his name mentioned by my cellmates. He said that the day before his colleagues questioned me and wrote only two sentences about me. That was why he came by that day in person.
He told me that in order to get a full picture about me, we should start from the year 1985. I immediately panicked because in 1985 there was a student protest movement in Ürümchi, and my husband and I, as students at the time, participated in that movement. I started to tell my story and didn't want to tell anything about the protest movement, but he wanted to hear the exact events that took place in 1985. He threatened me verbally while hitting his hand on the table. In the end, I told him that I had participated in the protest movement. I explained to him that at the time it was just cool for everyone to participate in that student protest movement, hence my participation. I did not tell him about my husband’s participation. However, the following day he asked me about my husband. He was especially interested in the organization World Uyghur Congress and its leader Rebiya Kadeer, for which my husband was working. At first, I denied everything, but in the end I just said what they wanted to hear.
“Is World Uyghur Congress a legitimate organization?” he asked. I became very nervous and scared and began to stammer, “No, it’s an illegal organization.” He asked again, “What kind of organization is it?” I replied, “What kind of organization is it? It’s an illegal organization.” At this point the police officer was trying to put words in my mouth and asked, “Is this organization trying to divide China? I answered, “Yes.” “Are they trying to separate Xinjiang from China?” “Yes,” I answered. They kept asking me the same questions about separating Xinjiang from China, fishing for answers they wanted to hear. This looping lasted two days.
On the third day he said to me that he would ask me the same questions again, expecting me to give the same answers as I had given before, and I was able to give my answers without any hesitation. On the fourth day, he said that he wanted to reinterrogate me and record the whole thing. On the fifth day he said that the recording from the day before was not clear and wanted to do it again. In retrospect, he was actually training me with all the questions, so that I would be able to give my answers in a fluent fashion. In order not to make me suspicious of his intention, he seriously asked me at the end of the interrogation that, “Which students from Karamay did you meet back in 1985? And what did you say and do with them? Answer me tomorrow.”
I thought about these questions and stayed awake all night, and I got scared until the next day. But he didn’t ask me anything about them. He asked me other questions instead, “Have you ever been to Norway?” “Yes, I have,” I said. “Who did you visit there?” “I was on a trip with my husband and didn’t meet anyone,” I replied. “Where are your classmates who live in Oslo?” I told him that they were our classmates, but we didn’t meet up on that trip; besides, they don’t live in Oslo, but in another city whose name I don’t recall. He continued to ask, “Didn’t they say that they would meet you in Norway when you were in France planning to visit Norway?” “No, they didn't come to meet us,” I said.
I went back to my cell, feeling nervous and scared all night because I didn't want my friends to get into trouble. I was thinking what if the interrogator had some kind of photo evidence, confirming that I did meet my friends in Norway. In fact, I had been to Malika and Parhat’s wedding, so I was worried that they would bring some photos and throw them in my face and punish me for lying. I couldn't sleep all night, for I was scared and worried.
The next day, March 11, 2019, no one came for me, but on March 12, 2019 they came for me. Although my feet were already in shackles, they tied my hands and put a black hood over my head. Instead of taking me to the interrogation room where they had interrogated me for six days straight, they took me outside. Before interrogating me, they asked me what my husband had done in the past ten years and why I had not told them anything. “My husband is working to support his family, and I don't know what he does outside and he doesn’t tell me what he’s doing. I don't know what activities he's got himself involved in and he never tells me about his work. How can I answer you guys when I don't know anything?” At that time, I was very adamant about not saying anything, but they threatened me by saying that I was not cooperating with them.
I lost a lot of weight, more than 15 kilos, and I weighed less than 50 kilos at that time. I was skin and bones, and wherever I was hit would hit the bones directly. It was snowing outside, but I wore cloth shoes. We walked for a long time, up the stairs, and then down some aisles before we got into a room. There were a lot of people in that room I guess (still had the black hood over my head) because it was very noisy, and I could hear a lot of people talk. I heard someone say loudly, “Remove the handcuffs.” The policeman who brought me into the room asked, “What about the shackles on her feet?” The first voice the said, “What about the shackles?” Then someone lifted the black hood on my head a little bit so that only my eyes were exposed. I saw Taskyn, and I also saw the secretary of the police station in Karamay, who said, “After the interrogation over the past few days, you have cooperated with us in a positive and sincere manner, and you have also confessed to your wrongdoings. Now we need to do a video recording of you.”
A few other policemen then took me to a bathroom, where I saw hair dye, cosmetics and other makeups. My hair was dyed, and then they asked me to do my own make-up. After that they took me to another room, where there were two cameramen and they gave me instructions in what I should say to the camera. In the middle sat Taskyn, the police officer who previously had given me instructions in what I needed to say, including how I should introduce myself. I started off by introducing myself, “I was born in Ghulja in 1966, and started working as an oil company engineer in Karamay in 1988. And I have never been involved in any political activities.” I continued to explain that our life prospered thanks to the good government policies, including the good benefits in Karamay. I criticized my husband in front of them for his serious mistakes and apologized for his going astray. I also said to the camera that my daughter had acted unpatriotically due to my husband's bad influence, attributing all that to Rebiya Kadeer's misguidance. They asked me to denounce Rebiya Kadeer as a devil and a rumormonger, and so on, which I did.
I felt scared, sad, and guilty at the same time. They made a video recording of me, the content of which was about how well China was doing, how fast it was developing, how happy the people were, how proud I was to be Chinese, how I would stand up for my country unconditionally no matter where I was, how I hoped that my family would also choose the right path, and how every time I when went back to China, the country was getting better and better. After having been videotaped, I couldn't sleep for many days.
To reward me for my efforts, they gave me good meals and told me that I couldn’t go back to my cell after having dyed my hair like that, so they put me in a single-person cell and they didn’t put shackles on my feet. I couldn't sleep that night, for I was feeling guilty about what I had been forced to say to the camera. I suddenly remembered a video Rebiya Kadeer had posted many years ago, in which she said that the Chinese regime would make people condemn her and frame her, a run-of-the-mill ploy used by the China regime to denounce dissidents. She wouldn’t blame the people who were forced to denounce her in order to save their own lives. I felt a little better thinking about it. But the mental torture and anguish never lessened.
I thought my suffering would be over after this recording, but it wasn’t. They made me record the same video over and over again, maybe seven or eight times, and then one time when I was condemning Rebiya Kadeer, I sighed unconsciously, which caused a lot of rage from everyone. They were very angry and scolded me very harshly for not agreeing with what I said, and thought I did it in protest.
On March 12, 2019, they told me I could leave. I was not excited because it was all the same for me whether I was in the internment camp or outside in the “open prison”. In the afternoon they took me to a nicely furnished apartment in a building. As soon as I walked into it, I smelled naan bread, which
I hadn’t eaten in two years. After about an hour I said I needed to go to the bathroom, and then two female police officers took me to the bathroom. I looked out the window and realized that this was the place where I had been detained the first time, and it was located above the Karamay wholesale market.
The apartment was previously used as a dining/resting facility for the detention center’s leaders, but it fell into disuse after they built the new detention center. The apartment was made up of one bathroom and one another room in which you can walk around. There were eight female police officers and three male police officers in the apartment with me, and they had a 24-hour shift, overseeing me. The female police officers were Yangmeng, Wangqian, Zhang something, and Li Fengmai, the last of whom was the warden responsible for the female internees in the previous internment camp, and she was very powerful and we were all afraid of her. The names of the three male officers were Taskyn, Ablajan, and Merdan. And in May another policeman named Israyil came.
I was put under house arrest there. I contacted my family in France for the first time on March 18, 2019. Before this phone call, the police officers kept telling me how to answer my family’s questions. I had to tell my family that I had rented an apartment by myself, and there was no one around me, and that I was free to move around, etc.
Then I was told to tell my husband and daughters to remove all information about China posted on Facebook and on other social media platforms, which I did, but my family somehow didn’t do it. The secretary Luo came to me in the middle of the night and angrily asked me why my family didn’t remove the contents in question on social media. I immediately called my family again in front of him, and they deleted all the China-related posts right then and there.
On April 11, 2019, they took me out for the first time and we went to a mall. I bought some clothes for myself. They took pictures of me while I was paying. In fact, I was accompanied by four police officers. I went out again on April 20 and on May 2, 2019. On June 2, 2019, they took me to another apartment in building No. 22 of Tongshun residential neighborhood in Karamay city. It was on the first floor, with three bedrooms, a living room, and a dining room, all furnished. I shared that apartment with two police officers, one female and the other male. For the first time I had a bedroom of my own.
Life in this apartment was relatively freer. I could go out whenever I wanted, but the police would still follow me around nonetheless. It was the end of Ramadan (Eid al-Fitr) on June 4, 2019, my mother and my sister arrived on June 18. The police officers moved out, so that my mother wouldn't know that they were police officers. They pretended to be community workers, but would come and surveil me twice a day. My mother and sister only stayed for three days and left. After my mother went back, she had a stroke due to high blood pressure and needed to be hospitalized for surgery. I immediately called the police officer Israyil right after I received the bad news from my sister. He said he would ask for permission from his superior and get back to me. I was allowed to go to Ili Prefecture to take care of my mother, but accompanied by the officer Israyil. I was in the hospital taking care of my mother, and he would call me every day and ask me to go out to debrief him. He would also ask me if my family back in France had called and if there was a recording of the call, for I was asked to record every phone conversation with my family. After spending fifteen days in the hospital, my mother was finally discharged on July 20, 2019.
About a week later, Israyil called me and asked me to meet him alone. I did not know that he was with the other police officers: Taskyn, Ablajan and Li Fengmai. I was very nervous and didn’t know why they were there. They asked me to write a confession letter for my wrongdoings, and they explained to me what I needed to write. After finishing the letter, I signed it, but the date written on it was March (it was actually July). Before they left on July 30, 2019, they asked me if I wanted to go back to Karamay, but I decided to stay at the
Mingzhu Hotel (明珠大酒店). I went to get my passport photo taken. I felt hopeful and afraid at the same time because I feared that they would change their mind. They told me that there would be a verdict from the court in August.
On July 30, 2019, I submitted my passport application. On August 2, 2019, Taskyn asked me to meet him and we went to the courtroom, where I saw a judge, a recorder, a cameraman, and two police officers. And the verdict I got from the judge was, “not guilty.” They said that I was free to go and they wouldn’t follow me anymore.
When I got back to Ili, I decided to go to Altay to visit my parents-in- law. I went to Altay on August 14, 2019, and went back to Ili the next day on August 15. Within three hours of arriving in a new city, you have to go to the local police station to register yourself. So I went to the local police station in Altay, and after having waited for half an hour, two police officers came to me and asked me to fill out some forms. An hour later two other police officers came and told me to go see their chief. I was very angry and nervous, so I called Taskyn and said, “You told me that the police would stop bothering me and leave me alone, right?”
I went to see their chief and he treated me in an unfair and rude manner. He said that I didn't register myself at the police station immediately after arriving in Altay. I said that was not true; within three hours of my arrival I went to the police station to register myself. However, he insisted that I didn't get myself registered, and threatened to lock me up in the Altay internment camp for two years. He shouted at me and made it clear that I shouldn’t underestimate him and that he had the right to lock me up in the camp. I was so scared and angry, and I thought I was going to spend two more years in another internment camp. Then the police chief went out and one Kazakh policeman explained to me that there was a misunderstanding between us, and he said that I could leave.
I went back to Ili the next day, and Taskyn the police officer called me again and ordered me to go back to Karamay to cooperate with their investigation.
In Karamay, I met the secretary Luo again, who asked me if I would be willing to give them information about Uyghurs overseas, basically asking me to spy for them. I said I couldn’t give him a guarantee, but I would report back to him if there was anything that could jeopardize the national security. We reached an agreement and I got my passport. They told me to keep in touch. That night I went to my sister’s home.
I finally returned to France on August 21, 2019.
There are some other things I witnessed in the internment camps and wish to speak about. The sanitary conditions inside were very bad, and we could only take a shower less than ten minutes once a week. Sometimes we couldn’t take a shower for ten days, or even more than twenty days. We couldn’t go to the toilet anytime we wanted. There were only five cubicles in the toilet, so we had to wait in line to be brought to the toilet. Fortunately, our internment camp had more toilet breaks than the other camps. We were allowed to go to the toilet five times a day: in the morning, after lunch, during recess, after supper, and before bedtime. Sometimes a good policeman would allow us to use the toilet. Once one internee from the neighboring cell wanted to go to the toilet, but the policeman didn’t allow her, so she defecated on herself.
The food served in the camp was very bad, and we never had meat, nor fatty food, only vegetable soup (containing very few vegetables) and steamed buns. There was also pilaf, but it contained no meat, only rice and two slices of carrot.
When I was locked up in a detention center, they put shackles on my wrists and ankles and chained me to the bed from April 1 to April 20. I asked why I was punished that way, and they said that was an order from above. They often made us squat with our hands holding our heads. Once they shackled twelve of us to a bed, four of us were political prisoners and the others were criminal prisoners. Some were even chained to a bed for two months. This was the punishment I received while I was locked up in a detention center.
I saw around twenty women in some cells, all of whom were in yellow vests (don’t know what this indicated), and all but two or three were handcuffed. We had to obey everything they said. Once a policeman asked us what color it was while pointing to a wall. We said the wall was white, and he got angry and then said, “No, this wall is black. You have to remember; this wall is white when I say it is white, and black when I say it is black.” The next time he asked we said that wall was black. We would be punished if we communicated in Uyghur; a whole cell of internees would be punished. They would punish us for a whole week by making us crawl and clean all the hallways and aisles, as well as the toilets, making us lose all our dignity. We were not allowed to have any inclination for any religious activities. We were not allowed to wash our faces with both of our hands, only with on hand, and we were being watched by a police officer every time we washed our faces; nor could we cover our faces with our both hands because this was seen as an act of praying. We could not close our eyes either because it would also be considered as praying. We would be severely punished for it.
There was a woman named Nurgul, who came to the camp after an operation on her stomach with a stitch wound. She started to pick at that wound herself, using hidden pieces of glass and wire, thinking that once the wound became inflamed, she would be released. However, those pieces of glass and wire she had hidden were discovered because the toilet also had a surveillance camera. She was punished in front of us and taken to a detention center in handcuffs and shackles for further punishment. We could not ask questions or refuse to obey, or else we would be punished. We would be strapped into the “tiger chair” for 24 hours, 48 hours, or even 72 hours, a torture equipment that clamps down the wrists and ankles. These were the punishments we were subjected to. There were cameras everywhere in the internment camp, even in the toilets and bathrooms.