A woman who escaped a Chinese “reeducation” camp gave a damning testimony that makes it clear the shocking lengths the country’s regime will go to force communist values on its people.
Sayragul Sauytbay spoke to Haaretz about her time in the Chinese camps. Although she had a position that allowed her some minor comforts, she witnessed many of the horrors there firsthand.
Sauytbay and her family lived in Xinjiang province, in the remote northwest reaches of China. The province is home to the Uighurs, a minority ethnic group that Sauytbay belongs to.
Although many in the region dream of independence, there is a very small number who actually commit violence to achieve it. For this, the Chinese government is now engaged in a clandestine campaign to wipe the entire culture from the face of the earth.
Concentration camps, officially ignored by the Chinese until their existence was proven, are now billed as vocational schools to help combat extremism. It doesn’t take much to end up in one, either — simply having a picture of a foreign movie star on your phone can be grounds for detention.
Being ethnic Uighurs, Sauytbay and her family saw the writing on the wall. While her husband and children were able to escape to neighboring Kazakhstan, she was not. When the government finally decided she needed to be imprisoned, her background as an educator saved her from the worst the camps had to offer.
After refusing to lure her family back to China, Sauytbay was taken to a camp in 2017 and told she would be teaching the prisoners the Chinese language.
While her position allowed her a concrete bed inside of a tiny room, less fortunate inmates were crammed into tight quarters with only a plastic bucket to serve as a toilet.
Sauytbay would teach the prisoners Chinese songs and communist slogans. People in the camp were expected to learn the foreign tongue under threat of torture. It didn’t matter to the authorities that the prisoners were expected to do this while living under horrific conditions.
“The food was bad, there weren’t enough hours for sleep and the hygiene was atrocious,” Sauytbay told Haaretz. “The result of it all was that the inmates turned into bodies without a soul.”
Punishments administered at the camp are shockingly brutal, painting a strikingly different picture of the China that NBA millionaires have recently defended.
“There were all kinds of tortures there,” Sauytbay said. “Some prisoners were hung on the wall and beaten with electrified truncheons. There were prisoners who were made to sit on a chair of nails. I saw people return from that room covered in blood. Some came back without fingernails.”
Inmates are also seemingly used for medical testing.
Pills and injections are given to prisoners with varying effects. Some people who were actually sick were not issued any medicine at all. Sauytbay was warned in secret by nurses at the facility to not take any pills she was given.
Sauytbay kept her head down and simply taught Chinese. In 2018, she was suddenly released from prison and told to keep quiet. She went back to her job as a director over several preschools.
She was soon fired, interrogated and accused of treason. Sauytbay was then told she needed to begin training her replacement.
Knowing this meant she would soon end up in the camp herself, this time most likely without a teaching position to protect her, she fled. After sneaking across the border to Kazakhstan, she waited for months before finally being granted asylum in Sweden.
Sauytbay’s testimony may seem extraordinary, but it matches other accounts coming from the Chinese concentration camps.
This isn’t a government tackling terrorism, it’s a regime demanding total obedience. For the communist rulers of China, there’s no person, ethnicity or god that comes before the state.
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