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Starving and subdued in Xinjiang detention centers: One woman’s story

Starving and subdued in Xinjiang detention centers: One woman's story

When Chinese language state authorities ready to launch Gulbahar Jelil, an ethnic Uyghur lady born and raised in Kazakhstan, they informed her that she was forbidden to inform anyone about what she had experienced over the one yr, three months, and 10 days in which she was detained…

She didn’t pay attention.



Gulbahar Jelil was informed to not mention the stench and illness that hounded her and pervaded her crowded cell. She was to not point out that 30 ladies have been pressured to share a 14-square-meter area. She was to not speak about their hunger weight loss plan, how detainees acquired only about 600 calories per day — equal to two or three plain bagels — and that she had lost near 100 kilos over the course of her internment.

“You will eat more food now, since you will soon be released,” they stated. They advised her that the food she had been given and the filth she had lived in — a cell with an open-air rest room and 30 unwashed bodies pressed collectively — have been a factor of the previous. It was a nightmare that she should put behind her.

This, and extra trauma, Jelil described in painful element in an 82-minute interview that aired last month on the Turkey-based channel Pidaiylar Biz. Filmed in Turkey less than a month after her launch, Jelil broke down in tears quite a few occasions over the course of the interview. “I want the whole world to hear about this oppression,” she stated.

Jelil grew up in Kazakhstan but identifies strongly together with her Uyghur heritage, and because of this — and the tales she heard from ladies between the ages of 14 and 80 in the detention facilities — she felt compelled to talk out. This was why she had come to Turkey, the place Uyghurs have an incredible deal extra freedom to speak freely.

“I am a Uyghur woman,” she stated in the Pidaiylar Biz interview. “My blood is Uyghur. I want to speak to the Chinese police who detained me for suspecting I was a terrorist. Why did they not release me after three months or six months? Why did they detain me for one year, three months? What kind of investigation was this? What wrong have I done? I want answers. Why did they say I was acquitted? Why? I want answers. What did I do? They said I was a terrorist. Why did they torture me?”

Jelil, whose nationality is Kazakhstani, recounts how it started: Last yr, she was asked by a business affiliate, an ethic Kazakh Chinese citizen, to go to Ürümchi to select up some shopper goods that she deliberate to promote in Almaty — a shuttle commerce business she had been involved in for almost 20 years. When she arrived, she was instantly detained. Jelil did not know that authorities had pressured her enterprise associate, also detained, to ask her. As in other instances reported by the Associated Press of Kazakhstani citizens swept up in the “transformation through education” system, the authorities informed Jelil that her citizenship status did not matter. They took her Kazakhstani passport away and replaced it with what appeared like an official Chinese ID card that had her image. They stated it proved she was a Uyghur from Xinjiang. They pressured her to memorize her new ID quantity. They advised her to admit her crimes.

She refused.

“I told them you can kill me, you can do whatever you want. I’m just a businesswoman,” she stated. “They tried to force me to confess, but I did not admit to their accusations.” They advised her she had wired 17,000 yuan ($2,500) from China to an organization referred to as Nur, which was based mostly in Turkey. She advised them she had by no means heard of this company and that their story made no logical sense. “Why would a Kazakhstani citizen come to China to wire money to Turkey?” she stated. They informed her, “We will let you think this over.” They shackled her arms and ft, placed a shroud over her head, and took her to the Number 3 Detention Middle in Ürümchi. After three months, she was transferred to the Quantity 2 Detention Middle in Ürümchi before being held in a ladies’s prison in the north part of the town.


“For one month they punished us by giving us only water and steamed buns…They said, ‘You are forbidden to speak Uyghur, only speak Chinese.’ They would feed us only if we spoke Chinese. ‘Xiexie! Xiexie!’ I said.”


In each of the three detention facilities, the women were given three tiny meals a day: One small steamed bun and watery cornmeal soup for breakfast, one small steamed bun and watery cabbage soup for lunch, and one small steamed bun and watery cabbage soup for dinner.

This weight loss plan was similar to that acquired by another detainee, Mihrigul Tursun. As reported by The Telegraph, she was held in a detention middle in Cherchen County, 750 miles south of Ürümchi, on the opposite aspect of the desert. She additionally described a starvation weight loss plan of steamed buns and watery soup. Over the course of her detention, as more than 60 ladies crammed into her cell, she stated they acquired smaller and smaller rations.

Jelil, in her interview, stated that on one event the jail guards gave them raw steamed buns, which they might not eat. “It just stuck in our mouths,” she stated. “We just put them to the aspect. We buzzed the police (on the intercom) and informed them we can’t eat these. They informed us, ‘This is a detention center, this is not your home. Don’t you recognize this? At your property you possibly can say this is cooked or not cooked. Right here you just eat what we offer you. Perhaps you’re too full so you’re being picky.’

“They punished us by giving us only steamed buns and water for one week. No soup. And then they accused us of speaking Uyghur. For one month they punished us by giving us only water and steamed buns. They also punished other cells, not just ours for this. They said, ‘You are forbidden to speak Uyghur, only speak Chinese.’ They would feed us only if we spoke Chinese. ‘Xiexie! Xiexie!’ I said.” (Xiexie is Chinese for “thank you.”)

Xinjiang detention centers, areas where suspects are held prior to receiving jail sentences or indefinite phrases of detention in reeducation camps, strip away the human dignity of detainees. They dehumanize detainees, decreasing them to numbers who converse a handful of Chinese language words. For Jelil, life in the detention middle revolved round saying “I’m here” (到 dào) and “thank you” (谢谢 xièxiè), and stumbling by way of the lyrics of patriotic songs for a country to which she had no authorized ties.

Jelil stated that, in every of her three Ürümchi detention centers, the cells, which have been seven meters lengthy and two meters large, have been crammed with a minimum of 30 ladies every, who sat on slender concrete benches. There was a rest room on one finish. Since there was not sufficient room for everybody to lie down aspect by aspect, a dozen or extra ladies stood whereas others slept in shifts throughout the night time.

What made the circumstances much more intolerable was that the ladies were not allowed to scrub regularly. “We could only have showers once per week over a 40-minute period,” Jelil stated. “All 30 of us women had to finish in that period of time. They gave us just one bar of soap. We had to divide it into 30 pieces. We used a comb to divide it into 30 pieces. Each person only had one minute to shower. We had barely enough soap to wash our hands and face. Each time, two people showered together. We just walked in together. It was not really possible to wash with that amount of soap. Because of our filthiness, we had many sores all over our bodies.”


Jelil noticed younger ladies screaming, hitting their heads towards the wall, smearing feces on the wall, refusing commands. These ladies quickly disappeared, she stated.


Jelil and Tursun both noted that in detention centers, no area was free from the gaze of closed-circuit cameras. Detainees were not permitted to talk to one another. For a lot of the day, they have been expected to simply stare on the wall. The one exceptions have been the durations once they acquired political and Chinese language instruction from a monitor and were given pens and paper. They have been only permitted to put in writing and converse in Chinese.

Both ladies additionally noted the widespread use of psychiatric medicine in the detention centers. Jelil stated, “They gave pills to every inmate. We all sat quietly. It (and the lack of food) made us subdued. You cannot even think about your children or your parents. You go in and out of consciousness. You can think of nothing. It is as if you’ve spent your whole life in prison. It is as if you were born there. No thoughts come into your head.” Jelil stated these tablets additionally stopped their menstrual cycle.

A number of the ladies in these areas cracked. They fainted from starvation, had seizures, and suffered mental breakdowns. Jelil noticed younger ladies screaming, hitting their heads towards the wall, smearing feces on the wall, refusing commands. Those ladies quickly disappeared, she stated. The Uyghur “sisters,” as Jelil referred to them, that remained in the cell informed one another to “pray on the inside.” Tursun stated more than nine ladies died because of prison circumstances in the course of the time she was held.

Soon after Jelil was disappeared in Might 2017, her youngsters back in Kazakhstan began petitioning for her release. Each day they despatched letters to authorities officers in Kazakhstan and China. Ultimately, Kazakhstani officers have been capable of strain the Chinese state into releasing her. She stated, “At first they told them there was no such person. They could say this because they had given me a Chinese ID and made me a Chinese person. Then they said I was a terrorist, but because they couldn’t prove this, eventually they had to let me go.”

When the day got here for her release, Jelil advised the guards the same thing she had been educated to say: “Dao.” I’m here.

“They put the shroud over my head,” she stated. “I held out my hands. They put the shackles on me. They brought me to the prison hospital to give me a physical. It seemed like the police consulted with the doctor, who said that I couldn’t be put on the airplane (back to Kazakhstan). They gave me vitamins and injections. They wanted to give me some nutrition. I had lost so much weight and was so weak. Two days later, my police officer came for me. She said, ‘Gulbahar.’ I said, ‘Dao.’ She asked, ‘Why aren’t you happy?’ And I said, ‘Why should I be?’ She said, ‘You are acquitted.’ She took the shackles off.”

Recounting this on the finish of the 43rd minute of the interview, Jelil began to wail softly. For almost a minute, the sounds of her crying crammed the studio. Her interviewer seemed down at the paper in front of him, his hand pulled up to his face.

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Tejas Sachdeva

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