What’s it Like in a Chinese ‘Reeducation Camp’? One Woman Just Told Her Whole Story

Uyghur People Demand Freedom with Flag of East Turkestan in front of the U.N. Building in NYC by SFT HQ (Students for a Free Tibet) is licensed under CC BY 2.0

China’s enslavement, genocide, sterilization and “reeducation” of its minority Uyghur population has mostly passed by the world’s attention.

But it’s going on right now and it’s imprisoned an estimated 1.8 million Uyghur people in concentration camps and work camps across their home province of Xinjiang, with hundreds of thousands of others brought into other areas of China where companies like Apple, Nike and Coca-Cola have huge factories.

Now one survivor of a reeducation camp is speaking out and told her story recently.

A Survivor’s Story

Gulbahar Haitiwaji is an Uyghur woman who ran away from China with her husband and two kids in 2006, alarmed over the persecution and anti-Uyghur policies happening there. They fled to France, where they tried their best to start a new life and live in peace.

Then she got a strange call in 2016 from a person who said that her retirement pension needed to be resolved back in Xinjiang because the oil company she had worked for their needed her signature on important documents.

Haitiwaji thought it sounded strange but the individual on the phone said nobody else could sign for her and she’d have to come back briefly just to sign. She eventually agreed.

Haitiwaji Returns Home

Coming back to Xinjiang, Haitiwaji went to her old job to sign the papers. Instead she was told she had to go to the police to answer some questions. They interrogated her about why she’d left and then showed her a photo of her daughter holding the light blue flag of East Turkestan at a protest in Paris.

East Turkestan is the region of Xinjiang that is the ancestral Uyghur homeland. It is illegal to hold or promote that flag in any way in China.

The Chinese police told Haitiwaji her daughter is a terrorist for being at the protest and jailed her five months at the police station. Then she was taken to a reeducation camp.

The camp had crowded dorms with boards for beds, a bucket for going to the bathroom and full surveillance 24/7. There was nothing else in the room, including toilet paper, sheets or furniture.

The Experience at Reeducation Camp

At the camp Haitiwaji says “brainwashing” took place, forcing communist propaganda on all the prisoners and being beaten by the teacher if you got anything wrong. If you even closed your eyes from being tired you would be questioned and hit, including one elderly woman who fell asleep and was then forced to denounce her own family for made-up crimes.

East Turkestan (14674325238) by S Pakhrin from DC, USA is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Haitiwaji says that the beatings and psychological torture eventually got to her as well. She was told to admit that her family had done all sorts of awful things and she became so exhausted that she eventually did what the guards asked.

“They managed to convince me that the sooner I owned up to my crimes, the sooner I’d be able to leave. Exhausted, I finally gave in. I had no other choice. No one can fight against themselves for ever,” Haitiwaji said.

Two years after being in the camp with minimal food and exhausted to the point of collapse, Haitiwaji was told she was free to go after judge’s quick ruling. She is traumatized forever by her experiences and the experiences of her people’s suffering.

In addition to the the kind of treatment and entrapment Haitiwaji describes, hundreds of thousands of Uyghur women have been forced to have abortions, sterilized, sent to work in slave labor conditions at factories and also had their husbands, sons and brothers deported to camps where many are enslaved and killed.