“You know her don’t you?” “Yes, she is our daughter.” “Your daughter is a terrorist!” It started like this
the nightmare of Gulbahar Haitiwaji, told in the pages of the Guardian
. Indeed, it began with a phone call received in November 2016 in his apartment in Boulogne; a quiet day, as common as the life that Gulbahar and her husband Kerim had chosen ten years ago, when they had moved to France to sow years of discrimination behind them. They were Uighurs from Xinjiang and this means that, for their China, they were a potential source of tension in a strategic region.
The voice on the phone told Gulbahar to call on behalf of the oil company where she and her husband had found their first job as engineers, asking her to return to Karamay to sign documents. Karamay was the parenthesis that Gulbahar and his family had long since closed, that of “no Uyghurs” at the end of job advertisements, that of red paychecks for minorities, less heavy than the wages of Han colleagues, the dominant ethnic group.
Convinced to return to China, with that fear that she hoped she had forgotten, the stages of her journey confirmed her presentiments: first the documents to be signed, then the interrogation in the police station and, finally, those words: “Your daughter she is a terrorist ». In front of her eyes, the policemen placed the photo of the girl at a demonstration in Paris of the World Congress of Uighurs, organized to denounce the repression exercised by the Chinese government against the autonomy of Xinjiang. The daughter, in the photo, was waving a flag of Turkestan, banned by the state: she is a terrorist.
Separatism, Islam and terrorism for the Chinese state are one and all Uighurs, consequently, are terrorists.
The penalty for Gulbahar was the worst possible. Five months in the cells of the police station and then the “school”. The school is formally that re-education program for the Islamic minority and falls within the framework of the Strike Hard campaign against violent terrorism; these are defense strategies that date back to the darkest pages of China’s history, but which have found more and more pretexts starting from the attacks of September 11 first and the terrorist attacks in Beijing, at the Kunming station and at the Urumqi market. lately.
But behind the mask of legality there is a mass deportation – the largest since Mao – which violates all human rights en bloc. The reports now reveal genocidal numbers; millions of people are interned, forced into indoctrination, killed, expelled. Re-education schools are detention camps, “a sort of no-rights zone”, defined them by Gay McDougall, the member of the United Nations responsible for respecting human rights and the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination .
Re-education is actually physical, psychological, cultural violence, which leads to the cancellation of the Uyghur identity. The Chinese government denies everything and the story continues to tell it in very different terms, but journalistic inquiries, numbers and testimonies from former prisoners are drawing an ever clearer picture of what is happening in Chinese detention camps.
Gulbahar Haitiwaji is the first survivor to speak unfiltered, and her testimony is an upcoming book in France. It tells of the “school”, of which no one knew anything with certainty except that it was a place of training to correct the Uighurs; tells of the barbed wire on the fence of the building in Baijiantan, while all around there is only the desert. He tells of the military exercise, of how the bodies of inmates were not allowed to waver, because those who fainted were beaten and slapped. Sometimes those who fainted or fell several times were dragged out of the room, never to return. It tells of how the bodies initially recalcitrant to coercion gradually get used to horror and lose spirit, they follow orders automatically.
The bunk to share with another woman, a bucket for needs and cameras that monitor every movement, at any time of day or night; the bed with wooden boards and no mattress, no furniture and no linen.
Time was marked by whistles and orders given. “Silence was imposed but, physically exhausted, we would not have spoken anyway.” The inmates tried to hide even the yawns, because every movement of the mouth could be mistaken for a prayer. Just closing your eyes to the authorities could mean praying. So it was good to be careful to avoid it.
In the field there is no time, there is no place and no thought after a while. No one on his arrival in the camp really thinks that a propaganda manual and the chorus repetition of “Long live President Xi Jinping” in the eleven hours of daily class can reset his critical thinking and convince him of what he has always condemned, but to eventually happens to everyone.
Sometimes you forget what you thought, even who you loved before arriving at the camp; it happens that you no longer have a critical sense, so much so that many educators are not Han, but converted Uyghurs. Finding yourself in front of a woman of your own ethnicity who requires you to swear loyalty to the central government at first upsets the Uyghurs inmates, but then you get used to it, you no longer even wonder what the educators really think and if they still think.
Gulbahar’s testimony is that of those who stayed in the camp for two years, so much so that they really began to believe that they were a terrorist, so much so that they almost denounced the family. “Everyone around me was trying to make me believe the massive lie without which China would not have been able to justify its re-education project: that Uighurs are terrorists” and in the end they give in, get on their knees and deny their principles , even your own identity.
The engineer Gulbahar Haitiwaji, or rather the woman of berth no. 9, confesses to having forgotten, at a certain point, even the faces of her husband and two daughters. All inmates become animals programmed to work as automatons. “China does not want to kill us in cold blood, but to make us disappear slowly. So slowly that no one will notice it ». In the camp, death can be in the scissors they use to cut hair, in the steps of the guards at night, in a whistle, in the needle of the vaccine. What then vaccine was not, because it was actually a technique
sterilization of prisoners
, in order to reset the regeneration of the lineage.
Thus, mental health abandons the victims, sometimes forever, even when they leave the detention camp. The only way, the author recalls, in which it is possible to continue to believe in the truth and to keep it alive in one’s mind is to pretend to give in to the lie.
Gulbahar remembers everything, every word he uttered against his will, every time he denied his ideology; also of having been convinced for a long time that that truth would remain only in her head, because no one would ever listen to it.
Instead, after two years, on August 2, 2019, she was found innocent in the Karamay court, when the alienation of her person was now complete: «Women like me who come out of re-education camps are no longer the same as before. We are shadows. Our souls are dead ».
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