Paris: As reports confirming the human rights abuses on Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region continue to surface, Gulbahar Haitiwaji, an Uyghur woman who was lured back to Beijing from France only to be arrested, has recounted her harrowing experience in the “re-education” camps.
“In the camps, life and death do not mean the same thing as they do elsewhere. A hundred times over I thought, when the footfalls of guards woke us in the night, that our time had come to be executed.
When a hand viciously pushed clippers across my skull, and other hands snatched away the tufts of hair that fell on my shoulders, I shut my eyes, blurred with tears, thinking my end was near,” Haitiwaji said in her book, “Rescapee du Goulag Chinois” (“Survivor of the Chinese Gulag”), co-authored with Le Figaro journalist Rozenn Morgat and published in French on January 13 by Editions des Equateurs.
According to a report by France 24, for three years, Haitiwaji, of the Turkish-speaking, Muslim, Uighur minority, lived through the torment of Chinese re-education camps. In the book, the author recounted the “interrogations, torture, hunger, brainwashing and forced sterilisations she experienced or witnessed” in the camps.
Recalling the day when she had received the call that changed her life, she said that in November 2016 her former company in China had “summoned her to sign some official papers needed for her retirement”.
Despite having a “bad feeling about it” and knowing the fate of exiled Uyghurs, she agreed to go to China for two weeks. Shortly after arriving, Haitiwaji was arrested and taken to the Karamay police station, where she was shown a photo of a young woman she knew all too well – one of her daughters, Gulhumar, France 24 said.
“She was posing in front of the Place du Trocadero in Paris, bundled up in her black coat, the one I’d given her. In the photo, she was smiling, a miniature flag of East Turkestan [the name used by Uyghurs to designate Xinjiang] in her hand, a flag the Chinese government had banned. To Uyghurs, that flag symbolises the region’s independence movement. It was at the end of one of the demonstrations organised by the French branch of the World Uyghur Congress, which represents Uighurs in exile and speaks out against Chinese repression in Xinjiang,” Haitiwaji said in her book.
Narrating her detention days, she said, “The guard came in one morning and chained me to the bars of the bed, without a word. That was two weeks ago.
Since then, I have been living sitting against the side of the metal bed, my bottom in the dust. I can pull myself up onto the mattress for the night.” She said that in 2017, the authorities had shifted her to “a school” where “the teachers are out to “eradicate Islamist terrorism” from the Uyghurs’ minds”.
During that period she was also forced to take part in military training. “Physically taxed to the limit, we no longer felt like talking. Our days were punctuated by the screech of the guards’ whistles, on waking, at mealtime, at bedtime,” she said.
Haitiwaji added, “During free time, many confided in me, ashamed that they no longer got their periods. They said their menstruation stopped right after the vaccination… I, who already stopped having my period, tried to reassure them. But deep inside, a terrible thought already began to take shape: Are they sterilising us?” Haitiwaji was finally pronounced as innocent during a brief trial in August 2019 and allowed to leave for her home.