Database Entry: ‘Only when you, your children, and your grandchildren become Chinese’: Life after Xinjiang detainment
Internment Internment conditions Pretexts for Detention

‘Only when you, your children, and your grandchildren become Chinese’: Life after Xinjiang detainment

February 22, 2021
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Then, two weeks later, in early September, as Nurlan was working to get his wife’s passport back, he was called into the village police station. “When I arrived, I was told that I was involved in international terrorist organizations. They told me that they would take me to the educational center.”

What happened next was a blur. The police forced him to submit his biometric data. “Then they drove me in a car and took me inside. There was a signboard which said ‘reeducation center.’ I entered and laid in there.”

Yet, as he says in the video interview below, he was still not afraid. “I was not afraid since I did not commit any crime.” He thought it would all be sorted out, so he was not afraid at all. He had no idea that he would spend the next seven months in the camp. His time there was bewildering: beaten cell mates, patriotic songs, cameras everywhere, sirens in the morning, commands yelled over speakers, five-minute meals, bathroom breaks three times per day, trying to sleep in shifts.

For six months, Nurlan was not interrogated. He was simply treated like all the other “level three” detainees — a category that was the least severe. To his thinking, in many ways it was simply like being in prison. “There was no learning at all,” he said. “All we did was watch TV — broadcasts of only one channel, which circulated videos about Xi Jinping’s visits to numerous countries and how he was helping these poor countries develop. Nothing else. We didn’t learn any skills. We were given plastic stools and would wear plastic slippers. We had to sit absolutely still on the stools while watching the TV programs about Xi.”

The first six months were like torture. During his first month they gave him sleeping pills, since he could not fall asleep. Then he began to have chest pains and was taken briefly to the hospital. In November, he fainted again and spent 10 more days in the hospital. Then on January 8, 2018, he had a heart attack and was hospitalized for most of the month. But still he was not released, nor was he told why he had been detained. As he says in the video below, he felt his life, and the life of his community, slipping away.

You do not know for what crime they brought you there and you just stay there. So, I just stayed there. They used to tell us that we would never get out and that we would be sentenced, sentenced to five to 30 years in prison. They said that they would keep us there until our views changed, and if our views failed to change, they would always keep us there. They said they would keep us there up to 50 years, until the whole nation, Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and other Muslim nationalities, would disappear. They said there was a document sent from above, from the administrative center, and that they were acting based on that document. They said no one can change the document since it was sent from the Central Committee. They said that the current system would not change until all Muslim nationalities would be extinct. “Only when you, your children and your grandchildren become Chinese would the current system change,” they said. I was told not to think about going back to my family in Kazakhstan. They said it was impossible. So when you hear these kind of words, you feel sick and cannot sleep. These kinds of words were the most difficult for me to bear, even if no one beat me. That is why my heart started to hurt.

Finally, his family was given a backdated notice with a forged signature that gave a reason for Nurlan’s detention. It was only in early April 2018 that Nurlan was finally questioned about his alleged “terrorist” associations.