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by Mary Harrington
Saturday, 19
October 2019

Weekend Long Read: Inside China’s Gulags

In this sobering interview, a survivor of a Chinese 're-education camp' tells her story...
by Mary Harrington

In this sobering long read, A Million People Are Jailed at China’s Gulags. I Managed to Escape. Here’s What Really Goes on Inside, David Stavrou at Israeli newspaper Haaretz interviews Sayragul Sauytbay, a Kazakh-speaking teacher who escaped China and was granted asylum in Sweden.

Sauytbay claims to have spent nine months in a Chinese ‘re-education camp’ where ethnic and religious minorities, notably the Uyghur population of the Xinjiang region, are routinely imprisoned.

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Though their existence was initially denied, since images of the camps were released, Chinese officials have now acknowledged the construction of ‘vocational re-education centres’ they claim are needed in order to address radicalism and poverty.

According to Sauytbay, though, the reality of these centres is violent abuse, starvation, torture, gang rape and medical experimentation conducted under pervasive surveillance cameras:

One day, the police told us they were going to check to see whether our reeducation was succeeding, whether we were developing properly. They took 200 inmates outside, men and women, and told one of the women to confess her sins. She stood before us and declared that she had been a bad person, but now that she had learned Chinese she had become a better person. When she was done speaking, the policemen ordered her to disrobe and simply raped her one after the other, in front of everyone. While they were raping her they checked to see how we were reacting. People who turned their head or closed their eyes, and those who looked angry or shocked, were taken away and we never saw them again.
- Sayragul Sauytbay

This all takes place behind a media blackout:

China has effectively closed off this immense region behind a curtain of secrecy, by means of surveillance and espionage, internet and social-network censorship, travel restrictions and bans on residents’ contact with relatives and others abroad, along with policing, oversight and control on a vast scale. 
- Sayragul Sauytbay

Meanwhile, the economic power China is beginning to flex via its Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative, notably in Muslim countries, has perhaps contributed to the worldwide absence of protest from Muslim nations worldwide about the horrors being perpetrated against their co-religionists in Xinjiang:

Indeed, last July, an urgent letter about Xinjiang to the United Nations Human Rights Council from the ambassadors of 22 countries was answered by a letter of support for China from the representatives of 37 other states, including Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kuwait and Bahrain.
- Sayragul Sauytbay

Watching ever more polarised social media tribes in the UK quarrel about whether or not it is reasonable to call Boris Johnson a fascist, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that those concerned about authoritarianism may be looking in the wrong direction.

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