Uyghur forced laborer died at factory in China’s Xinjiang, officials say

Shazadigul Tomur died of an apparent stomach ailment while working in a sock factory.
By Shohret Hoshur
Buildings at the Artux City Vocational Skills Education Training Service Center, believed to be a re-education camp where Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, are seen north of Kashgar in northwestern China's Xinjiang region, June 2, 2019.

A Uyghur woman who had been interned in a detention camp in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region died of a stomach ailment in September 2020 while performing forced labor at a sock factory adjacent to the internment facility, RFA has learned.

Shazadigul Tomur, 45, was taken from her home to Zhongtai internment camp in Toksun (in Chinese, Tuokesun) county, Turpan (Tulufan) prefecture, in mid-2018 and developed a stomach pain a year later, a source with knowledge of the situation and local officials said.

Shazadigul, a native of Toksun’s Bostan township, is one of thousands of Uyghurs who have perished in China’s network of re-education camps believed to have held up to 1.8 million members of the mostly Muslim minority group and other Turkic minorities since 2017. Many detainees are forced to work in factories in Xinjiang or elsewhere in China.

Forced labor in Xinjiang has become a major point of friction between China and Western countries and corporations, drawing sanctions and import curbs from the U.S. and other states, and contributing to calls to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics.

On Dec. 23, U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, blocking the import of goods into the U.S. from Xinjiang without “clear and convincing evidence” that they were not made with Uyghur forced labor. China has angrily rejected the forced labor assertions as aimed at smearing the country.

Shazadigul’s story first came to RFA’s attention through an anonymous letter summarizing her detention and death. Local officials confirmed the details of her incarceration and death in telephone interviews.

The letter writer, who declined to be named out of fear of reprisal from Chinese authorities, told RFA that Shazadigul was taken to an internment camp in mid-2018 and that she had died in September 2020.

At the time of her death, Shazadigul was forced to work with a large group of internment camp detainees at a sock factory in Toksun’s Alghuy village, the letter said.

When the woman reported her health condition to camp officials, they ignored her pleas, saying it was not the first time that she had told them she was suffering.

Shazadigul’s abdominal pain had grown worse, and by September 2020, she was vomiting blood while still working at the factory, according to the letter. One day she lost consciousness at the factory and later died.

Prior to her death, Shazadigul had pre-existing food allergies and had not been able to eat for a long time, the letter said. Camp staff considered her inability to eat as a voluntary hunger strike by the camp staff, prompting more severe interrogations and torture without giving her an opportunity to explain her food allergies.

A Bostan township official contacted by RFA confirmed Shazadigul worked at the factory at the Zhongtai camp, and that she had died. The official did not comment on the woman’s health condition before and during her detention.

She died “at the county people’s hospital,” the township official said.

After Shazadigul was questioned and tortured, she appeared to grow accustomed to the camp’s food, though her stomach continued to feel uncomfortable, and she later experienced severe pain, the letter said.

Though she did not report her deteriorating health to the camp staff, they were aware of her vomiting but remained skeptical of her health condition.

The last time Shazadigul went to the factory, she had told camp staff she felt dizzy and unwell, but they made her line up with thousands of other Uyghur forced laborers and took her to the work site, said the letter.

Shazadigul lost consciousness after two hours and collapsed while vomiting blood. Officials rushed her to a hospital where she was pronounced dead after medical personnel were unable to revive her.

A Toksun county police officer told RFA that Shazadigul had been taken from the camp to the hospital, returned to her home instead of to the camp after medical treatment was ineffective, and then died.

“She died in her home after she was released from the hospital,” he said.

The officer also confirmed that the woman worked at the sock factory.

“It’s called the No. 4 [re-education] school,” he said. “Now there’s also a factory in that re-education school. They make socks and stuff like that in those factories inside those re-education schools.”

The officer said he had heard that Shazadigul had “problems with her lungs,” though he had not seen any medical reports, and that he was unaware that she had what appeared to be gastritis.

A police officer who works in Bostan township about 40 miles away from the Zhongtai camp, told RFA earlier that detainees could not choose their own food and had to eat whatever they were given, and that camp officials did not care if the food impacted their health.

Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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