PART III: Interview: ‘We tell them that they would be banned from seeing their family again.’

Rebiya Kadeer Rebiya Kadeer (center), former head of the World Uyghur Congress, shouts slogans with others holding Uyghur flags during a protest in Brussels, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018.

Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule. Sources say detainees routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers in the camps and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities. Beijing, which initially denied the existence of such camps, now says they are part of the fight against extremism and also work to provide Uyghurs vocational training. An officer at a police station in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service about the conditions at a camp where he worked as a guard for 10 months. In the third part of the interview, the officer—who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal­­—describes how the ban on religious practices in the camp affects bedtime, and even the specific language detainees can use when talking with family members.

RFA: How many beds are there in each dormitory?

Officer: There are 10.

RFA: Are they bunkbeds?

Officer: Yes.

RFA: Are there any special rules for when the detainees sleep?

Officer: I don’t know.

RFA: What time do they have to go to sleep?

Officer: We order them to go to sleep at 10 pm.

RFA: If they do not sleep, do you punish them?

Officer: Yes, we order them to stand.

RFA: How do you check if they are sleeping or not?

Officer: There are cameras fixed above the door at approximately two metres high. They point across the room towards the window, so we can monitor the movement of people.

RFA: You mentioned that you order the detainees to carry out self-surveillance, how does that work?

Officer: Two people in the room stand and watch and every hour or every hour and a half.  [When their watch ends, they] change with two others.

RFA: When sleeping, if someone talks in their sleep or suddenly sits up or unknowingly moves their arms, what will happen?

Officer: The people watching will tell us what happened.

RFA: Do the watchers have to record what they say in their sleep?

Officer: Yes, if someone speaks in their sleep, we must be informed immediately.

RFA: Do they write down what they have heard?

Officer: Yes, if the words are clear, they tell us exactly what was said. Also if they hear any mumblings which were not clear they inform us.

RFA: Do you know of any incidents where someone admitted something, or revealed another person’s wrongdoing in their sleep?

Officer: Yes, such incidents occurred while I was working there.

RFA: Can you give an example?

Officer: Well, I don’t remember clearly.

RFA: What are the duties of the two standing watch?

Officer: They look out for anyone pretending to be resting, but actually not.

RFA: So if they are pretending to sleep but are actually doing something else, what are they actually trying to do?

Officer: [Sometimes they discreetly attempt to perform] Wudu, the act of washing, as if cleaning themselves in preparation for prayer. Once we receive a report of such behavior, we review the camera footage, then the cadres would go and interview the person suspected of having done this. If [we determine that’s what they were doing], they are then handed over to the State Security Police.

RFA: How many people do you know of who performed the action of getting ready for prayer, even under such tight surveillance?

Officer: Two people [were caught doing this] in cases I was personally involved with.

RFA: If there are siblings or relatives sent to the same camp, do you arrange for them to share same dormitory or do you separate them?

Officer: We separate them into different buildings or onto different floors. Normally we try to allocate them to different buildings, but in cases where there are too many members of the same family we separate them onto different floors.

RFA: Is there any chance of brothers bumping into one another in the corridors?

Officer: No.

RFA: If people say for example, “I dreamed of my family last night, I miss them.” Do you allow them to express such emotional feelings?

Officer: Yes, it happened when I was working there. When school started in January, no one was allowed to telephone or receive a visit from their family. Starting in June the rules were relaxed. When people approached us regarding their wish to contact their family, we advised them to obey the rules of the camp, study hard and to be on their best behavior. [We also told them] that the earlier they successfully complete the program, the earlier they would be able to return home to their family.

RFA: Are they allowed to be visited by their family?

Officer: They are allowed to speak to their families once a week by telephone, and via video-link once a month.

RFA: Are they allowed to meet face to face?

Officer: When I was working there, it wasn’t allowed. But now they are allowed to if the family has been approved by the police department.

RFA: When they [communicate with] their family, what are the terms and conditions imposed at the meeting? Do you tell them what they can and cannot say?

Officer: We warn them not to use sensitive words.

RFA: What do you mean by ‘sensitive words,’ what kind of words are deemed to be sensitive?

Officer: For example, we tell them when the [call] is over, you should say goodbye, and nothing more.

RFA: Do you mean, they are not allowed to say, ‘God be with you’.

Officer: Yes.

RFA: What about, ‘if God permits’?

Officer: We tell them not to use such terms.

RFA: Can they greet each other saying ‘As-salamu alaykum?’

Officer: No, it is not allowed.

RFA: What can they say then?

Officer: ‘How are you?’

RFA: What would happen if they say ‘As-salamu alaykum?’ What is the punishment?

Officer: Since we warned them repeatedly, nobody uses such greetings. I never heard of anyone using such terms or being punished as a result.

RFA: When you warn them, what do you tell them the punishment would be?

Officer: We tell them that they would be banned from seeing their family again.

RFA: What about the family? Do you also apply the same terms and conditions to them? For example, also warning them not to use the greeting ‘As-salamu alaykum.’

Officer: Yes, the same rules apply to them as well. Prior [to contact,] the cadres explain the rules.

RFA: What do you recommend [the detainees] say to their families? Do you tell them to say positive things about the camp such as how good the food is, and how they are receiving a good education and moving in the right direction?

Officer: We first ask them what they think about the camp, they normally express their gratitude [to us]. So we tell them “when you see your family, you must not cry, otherwise they will think that you are going through hardship. You must tell them with a smile that because of your own wrongdoings, you are taking part in re-education. Say to them ‘I am studying laws and regulations, as well as the National Standard Language (Mandarin Chinese). In order to liberate my mind, I am studying. When I go out from here, I will be a better person.’” We make sure they [can convincingly tell us] that they are well treated in the camp before they can [have contact with] their families.

Reported by Shohret Hoshur and translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service.


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