Inside Xinjiang’s Prison StateFebruary 26, 2021
On January 1, 2018 . . . more than a thousand people gathered at a flag-raising ceremony in a square outside the mayor’s office in Akkoi Farm to hear Aynur, the retired teacher, deliver a public confession. An employee at her former school made Aynur write out her statement in Chinese.
In 2016, flag-raising ceremonies in Xinjiang became mandatory; every family had to send a representative. Absence was considered a black mark on a household, and was used as a pretext for interrogation. Like the “struggle sessions” of the Cultural Revolution—public humiliations of landowners and other class enemies—confessions at flag-raising ceremonies in Xinjiang made an example of those whose thinking had been polluted.
Before she spoke, Aynur stood by herself under a large flagpole while the Chinese flag was raised. Then she explained that, because she was unable to control her husband, he had become involved with terrorists, and that this was why he was living in the camp a few miles down the road, with around five thousand other detainees. When Aynur finished, others rose to give speeches praising the Party. Although she had given brief confessions at previous ceremonies, she’d never been forced to call her husband a terrorist. Afterward, relatives in her village started avoiding her. Former colleagues from her old school stopped saying hello when they saw her on the street. “I felt like a criminal in front of all those people,” she said. “It was not a good feeling.”