Several former Xinjiang residents describe disturbing scenes and conditions at the camps they were held in, with many forced to endure tedious tasks aimed at assimilating them into Chinese culture.
Mihrigul Tursun said she was interrogated for four days in a row without sleep, had her hair shaved and was subjected to an intrusive medical examination following her second arrest in China in 2017. After she was arrested a third time, the treatment grew worse.
‘I thought that I would rather die than go through this torture and begged them to kill me,’ Tursun, 29, told reporters at a meeting at the National Press Club in 2018.
‘In the camps, these detainees, most of whom are Uighur, are subjected to deeply invasive forms of surveillance and psychological stress as they are forced to abandon their native language, religious beliefs and cultural practices,’ the statement said. ‘Outside of the camps, more than 10 million Turkic Muslim minorities in the region are subjected to a dense network of surveillance systems, checkpoints, and interpersonal monitoring which severely limit all forms of personal freedom.’
Mihrigul Tursun, right, said she was interrogated for four days in a row without sleep, had her hair shaved and was subjected to an intrusive medical examination following her second arrest in China in 2017.
Raised in China, Tursun moved to Egypt to study English at a university and soon met her husband and had triplets with him.
In 2015, Tursun traveled to China to spend time with her family and was immediately detained and separated from her infant children. When Tursun was released three months later, one of the triplets died and the other two developed health problems. Tursun said the children had been operated on. She was arrested for a second time about two years later.
Several months later, she was detained a third time and spent three months in a cramped, suffocating prison cell with 60 other women, having to sleep in turns, use the toilet in front of security cameras and sing songs praising China’s Communist Party.
Tursun said she and other inmates were forced to take unknown medication, including pills that made them faint and a white liquid that caused bleeding in some women and loss of menstruation in others. Tursun said nine women from her cell died during her three months there.
One day, Tursun recalled, she was led into a room and placed in a high chair, and her legs and arms were locked in place.
‘The authorities put a helmet-like thing on my head, and each time I was electrocuted, my whole body would shake violently and I would feel the pain in my veins,’ Tursun said in a statement read by a translator.
‘I don’t remember the rest. White foam came out of my mouth, and I began to lose consciousness,’ Tursun said. ‘The last word I heard them saying is that you being an Uighur is a crime.’
Yerzhan Kurman, who is ethnically Kazakh, was taken into a ‘political educational school’ when he went to visit his mother in 2018.
‘They came in the middle of the night and took me to the camp,’ the 42-year-old told CNN. ‘They handcuffed us, put a bag over our head.’
Entrance to a jail which locals say is used to hold those undergoing political indoctrination program in Korla, Xinjiang. Local laws have been revised to allow such establishments
Kurman described being placed in a cell with nine other men, having to use a shared bucket as a toilet. Cameras monitored the group, who were not allowed to talk to each other. Those needing to use the bucket, had to ask for permission. He said that punishment consisted of them being denied food and made to stand upright all night.
Kurman also said that the group got in trouble if they refused to sing the Chinese national anthem up to seven times a day. Their detentions would be extended if they failed Chinese language tests, as well.
Gulzira Auelkhan, another former resident who is Kazakh, said that she was thrown into a camp in 2017 after returning to the region from Kazakhstan to visit her family.
‘Cameras monitored us everywhere,’ she said. ‘If we cried they would handcuff us, if we moved they would also handcuff us.’
She claims authorities told her that she ‘came from a terrorist country,’ adding that they needed to ‘cut my hair. Took my blood samples.’
A number of women told CNN that they had had their hair forcibly removed.
‘They cut our hair off, made us bald,’ shared Gulbakhar Jalilova, an ethnic Uyghur from Kazakhstan. She now lives in Istanbul after escaping from the camps. ‘Everything was gone. Nothing. I had long hair.’
Zumrat Dawut, an ethnic Uyghur now living in D.C., shared a similar survival story.
‘I had long hair, all the way to my hips,’ Dawut said. ‘On the second day, they took me to a separate office, where they had a tray with a machine and scissors, and they cut my hair.’
She said that ‘everyone’s hair was cut short,’ making many of the women ‘sad and stressed.’ Dawut was unsure of what happened to the hair but she has ‘heart aches’ when she sees Chinese hair products in American stores.
It is unknown what happens to the hair taken from the women but industry experts say that the high value of human hair means that the large quantities are unlikely discarded.
They pointed out, however, that the quantities make up such a small portion of the hair needed for a stable supply chain.
China imports hair from India, Malaysia and several other countries in the region.