All posts filed under: Social Analysis

“I thought it would be convenient to use my brother’s computer to check my email”

In February 2017 Jaudat Abasi, a Tatar man who now lives in Europe, travelled to his former hometown Ürümchi, the capital of China´s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, to visit his mother who was hospitalized after a surgery. He was stunned to see the city dramatically transformed with thousands of armed police and checkpoints. Before he left a few weeks later, his brother Shafkat Abasi was detained. Almost three years on, Shafkat is still imprisoned, and the family recently learned that he received a 10 years sentence.     Jaudat has lived abroad since 2005, but has regularly traveled back to Xinjiang for business, visiting friends and relatives.  As the years went by, he noticed the situation in the region gradually deteriorating with heavy surveillance and restrictions on local ethnic culture and religion.   It began to remind him of the Cultural Revolution when he and his brother were born. But there was an important difference. He said, “At that time many people were imprisoned as well. The difference this time is that all the ethnic minorities are targeted.”    …

A Police State Going into Hiding

Uyghur music played in the center of the Grand Bazaar in 2019 Over the past two years, multiple news reports, academic research, and eyewitness accounts have pieced together a picture of the tight surveillance in the police state the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has become. I experienced some of this surveillance myself during a trip to Urumqi and Xinjiang’s south in the spring of 2018. One year later, in 2019, I was prepared to encounter even more restrictions during a second trip to Ürümchi and two southern cities, where surveillance has been reported to be most severe. To my surprise, I noticed soon after my arrival that much of the visible surveillance measures had been reduced noticeably compared to 2018. This created an illusion of a more relaxed atmosphere, at least on the surface. However, as I was to discover during my travel, surveillance had not decreased but emerged in more discrete ways. Despite still being many, the overall number of surveillance cameras seemed to have declined, at least it didn’t look like that there …

“There was no learning at all.”

What follows is an abridged first-person account of Xinjiang camp eyewitness Nurlan Kokteubai, delivered at the office of the Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights organization on November 5, 2019. The summary and English translation were done by Kaster Bakyt. Gene A. Bunin did the English editing and smoothing. I was born and raised on the Akkoi stud farm in Chapchal County. From September 1979 to July 1997, I worked as a schoolteacher. I myself am a graduate of a vocational secondary school. In 2011, I came to Kazakhstan and obtained a Kazakhstan green card. My wife was also a teacher, but she’s retired now. Our children moved to Kazakhstan too and got Kazakh citizenship here. In July 2017, my wife was called to go to China, and then I went too since they summoned me as well. I went around August 20, 2017. Some days later – on September 3, 2017 – the village police called me to the police station. I thought that they were going to collect my passport, but when I got there they …

“The camps are bad, but this school system will produce even more lasting damage.”

The “bilingual” education system introduced over the past decade in Xinjiang is better characterized as an attempt to transform minority education systems in the region. There have been frightening consequences for Uyghur culture. Names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals. In March of this year, Kaiser noticed that his 15-year-old sister Abida began to interject Chinese phrases into their Uyghur conversations. Up until that time they had never spoken Chinese with one another. The words she used signaled her “quality” (素质 sùzhì) as an educated young woman. They often ended with the soft-toned drawn-out particle “a” (啊), as in phrases such as “tǐng hǎo a!” (挺好啊) — “Pretty good!”—  or “wǒ xǐhuān’a” (我喜欢啊), “I like (it).” The siblings didn’t speak frequently, because it wasn’t safe for them to talk. Kaiser was attending college in North America while Abida was just finishing middle school in a small town near the city of Kashgar in southern Xinjiang. Usually they spoke only when a mutual friend who lived in a nearby city visited the family and allowed …