‘Will they let us live?’ Inside Xinjiang, survivors of China’s internment camps speakDecember 17, 2020
Jevlan Shirmemmet, 29, a Uighur who left China as a student in 2011 and is now a tour guide in Istanbul, lost contact with his parents and brother when they were taken to the camps in 2018. Only in June this year did he hear from his father, who called from a police station. His first sentence after two years was not a greeting, but an accusation that his son had joined “troublesome groups” abroad. Shirmemmet was shocked.
He hadn’t joined any political movements, he told his father. “This was my father’s mouth,” Shirmemmet said, “but it was the Xinjiang authorities and public security speaking through him.”
His mother, he was told, had been sent to prison — probably because she visited him in Turkey in 2013. When Shirmemmet asked the Chinese Embassy in Turkey for proof of her trial or conviction, they suggested he instead write a list of his activities and contacts abroad. “If you can figure out where you did wrong, tell us,” an embassy official told him.
Shirmemmet’s parents were civil servants who taught him to speak fluent Mandarin and avoid politics. But being Uighur, he said, made him a target for the Communist Party. “They reached their hands into my family, strangled us and wouldn’t let us go,” he said of the party. “As long as you are Uighur, you are political.”