The massive human rights violations perpetrated against the Uyghur community in China have been largely undocumented and hidden from worldview. Only in recent years has the brutal reality emerged: the state-sponsored cultural eradication and forced assimilation of Muslim Uyghurs. Muslims make up the majority population in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region located in the northwest of China. They include Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other communities who are ethnically Turkic and who have their own customs and languages, making them distinct from the dominant Han Chinese. An Amnesty International report in June 2021, based on the testimonies of numerous survivors highlighted mass imprisonment, torture, and persecution of the Uyghurs amounting to crimes against humanity. The organisation’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard, described their plight as ‘a dystopian hellscape on a staggering scale.’

Gulbahar Haitiwaji’s heart wrenching account of her internment in a Chinese ‘re-education’camp provides further evidence of the horrors committed by the Xi Jinping regime. It is a personal account by a Uyghur woman who describes her terrifying encounter with the Chinese authorities.Presented in a diary format, her memoir takes the reader through the details of her ordeal, recounting her time spent in a Chinese prison and then in a ‘re-education’ camp where she endured ‘hundreds of hours of interrogation, torture, malnutrition, police violence, and brainwashing’. The visceral details make for very uncomfortable reading. 

Gulbahar Haitiwaji and Rozenn Morgat, How I Survived a Chinese ‘Re-education’ Camp: A Uyghur Woman’s Story, Canbury Press, Kingston Upon Thames, 2022

Haitiwaji was born in Ghulja, Xinjiang, in 1966. She studied at the Urumqi Petroleum Institute; and after graduation, she worked as an engineer at an oil company in Xinjiang. Her husband too was an engineer. But, as Uyghurs, their lives in Xinjiang became insufferable. The Chinese government launched a systematic assault on the autonomy of Uyghurs. Job adverts unashamedly declared ‘No Uyghurs’ in their fine print, checkpoints, police inspections, interrogations, intimidation, and threats became routine. The community lived on ‘borrowed time, in a state of partial freedom’ that could be ripped away from them at any given moment. Uyghurs became synonymous with dissidents. These state strategies were allegedly designed to remove ‘political dissidents’ and the threat of ‘radical Islam’ and separatism. However, Haitiwaji was neither politically active nor particularly devout.  

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