Inside Xinjiang’s Prison StateFebruary 26, 2021
While Aynur’s husband was detained, Akkoi Farm officials required her to attend Chinese-language classes for four hours every day. For months, she heard nothing from her husband. Communist Party cadres showed up unannounced at the house where she was living and stayed for days at a time. As many as four strangers might appear, eating meals with Aynur and her relatives. When one group left, it was replaced by another. “They would interrogate us, mainly me, asking me what I was doing, why we went to Kazakhstan—they would ask about everything,” she said. After several weeks, the round-the-clock surveillance stopped, but cadres who called themselves Aynur’s “older siblings” continued to visit each week.
Sholpan Amirken, a hairdresser from northern Xinjiang who married into a prominent religious family, told me that after several of her husband’s relatives were detained in 2017, a male Han cadre came to stay at her house. He advised Amirken and her husband, both of whom are Kazakh, to dispose of books written in Arabic, so she burned them. He also ordered her to take down wall ornaments with Kazakh phrases—“May Allah Bless You,” “May the Roof of Your House Be High”—along with embroideries of mosques. The cadre visited for days or weeks at a time, she said, always bringing luggage and sleeping in the main house. Amirken was nervous around the cadre, who came even when her husband, a long-haul truck driver, like Otarbai, was away. She began to sleep in a guest house. “We considered him a spy,” she said.
In time, though, Amirken began to sense that some of the cadres had been pressured into the arrangement. “They have to make video calls from the house and report that they are there,” she said. “They are also doing it unwillingly.” Her cadre was far from the worst. Others, she said, “were very pleased with their jobs.” She had heard that some cadres threatened people with detention in the camps.