Home / World / Surveillance Cameras and Barbed Wire: Living in Xinjiang in the midst of fear and oppression

Surveillance Cameras and Barbed Wire: Living in Xinjiang in the midst of fear and oppression

Her backpacks and exercise books are waiting for her return. A toy bear lies on the bed. Her clothes are hanging neatly in the wardrobe.

The girl's grandmother says she can not bring herself to change her.

"The clothes still smell of them," she says, her words are barely audible through heavy sobs. 19659002] Ansila Esten and Nursila Esten, 8 and 7 years old, left their hometown Almaty, Kazakhstan, together with their mother Adiba Hayrat in 2017.

The three traveled to China, where Adiba Hayrat wanted to do a make-up course and visit her parents in the western border region of Xinjiang, leaving her husband Esten Erbol and nine-month-old son Nurmeken in Kazakhstan, Esten told CNN ,

Not long after her arrival, her husband says she was imprisoned. He has not heard from her for more than two years.

"My son was not even 1

when she left," said Esten Erbol. "When he sees young women in the neighborhood, he calls her mom, he does not know what his own mother looks like."

  The two daughters of Adbia Hayrat, Ansila Esten and Nursila Esten, kept in a family photo of their father.

Adiba Hayrat and her two daughters are Chinese citizens from the Kazakh minority. She grew up in China, as did her daughters. Her little son was born in Almaty.

The family was about to become a citizen of Kazakhstan, as Esten Erbol says Adiba Hayrat has been imprisoned by Chinese authorities.

Her family in Kazakhstan said she was detained in a detention center in Xinjiang for more than a year while her children were sent to distant relatives.

She was released, according to her family. However, they say that Adiba Hayrat now lives with her parents and works in a forced labor center, earns miserable wages, and is unable to contact her family in Kazakhstan for fear of being detained.

According to the US State Department Nearly two million Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities have been held in huge camps in Xinjiang against their will.

An unknown number of workers, who are designated as forced labor camps by ruling groups, and they, like Adiba, are unable to leave China.

"My wife is not a terrorist"

Activists and former detainees claim that the Xinjiang Detention Center has been rapidly set up in the past three years, the latest phase in a continuing and widespread crackdown on ethnic minorities in the region.
Torture allegations in the camps are widespread, even in reports that CNN received from former detainees. The Chinese government has increasingly been exposed to international criticism of Xinjiang policy, including from the United States.
Critics claim that the camps are an attempt by Beijing to eradicate the Islamic cultural and religious traditions of the region – a process of sinification in which ethnic minorities are inevitably assimilated into a broader majority of Han Chinese culture.

Beijing denies allegations of political indoctrination and says the camps are "vocational training centers" designed to fight terrorism.

Even if you buy this statement, Esten Erbol said, this would not apply to his wife. "My wife is not a terrorist," he said.

  Adiba Hayrat and her son Nurmeken, who has been separated from his mother for over a year.

After Adiba had ended the detention, Esten Erbol said that a friend in the area told her that his wife was allowed to live with her parents and children while she was in prison Forced Labor worked.

In Kazakhstan, many ex-prisoners are forced to work in institutions where the authorities have control of the former prisoners.

A US Congress The law, introduced in January, stated that there were credible reports that former prisoners had been forced to produce cheap consumer goods in forced labor camps that could return to detention centers.

Esten Erbol says he has heard from a friend in the area that officials are aware of his wife's wife's sport, so she and her daughters can not return to Kazakhstan.

The wait is painful. He has no way to contact her directly, and fears that if he went to Xinjiang to find her, he might end up in a camp.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment when it asked about the family's allegations about her imprisonment or whether she is currently being forced to work.

China's "virgin soil"

Xinjiang is the largest region in China, an extensive, arid landscape in the far west of the country, which has a comparatively small population of China 22 million.

It hosts a large number of minority groups, of which the predominantly Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uighurs are the largest.

Uighurs differ culturally and linguistically from Han Chinese, the country's dominant ethnic group. This is partly because Xinjiang has been officially part of China for less than two centuries. The name Xinjiang, translated as "new territory", was first used in 1884.

These differences have often led Beijing to tighten security in Xinjiang, but this policy became more draconian in July following violent protests against Han Chinese in 2009.

During the riots, residents ravaged bats, knives, and rocks the capital Urumqi, which led to a brutal counterattack by the paramilitary police and the Chinese military. According to Chinese state media, 197 people were killed.

When CNN traveled through Xinjiang, signs of increased police presence were everywhere. Today, in most of the cities in Xinjiang, there are about 150 meters of face-tracking cameras that relay images to the central command centers, where people's faces and routines are monitored and referenced.

Mobile police checkpoints appear arbitrarily throughout the region, leading to long lines on public roads , At the checkpoints and occasionally on the street, police officers are telling people to request their passports and occasionally request that unidentified electronic devices be connected to cell phones for scanning without explanation.

For Han Chinese, living in Xinjiang is much easier the dominant ethnic majority in the rest of China. At the security checkpoints, Han Chinese are often dropped without showing or presenting an ID card.

During an almost one-week trip to the region, CNN did not see that a non-Han Chinese had the same privilege.

For Uighurs or other residents, increased surveillance has turned their lives upside down. An easy trip to the market or meeting friends can take hours due to the unpredictable and intrusive nature of police checks.

Everyone knows someone who was arrested or at least harassed, say activists. Behind the walls of Xinjiang camps, former inmates say those who are being attacked by authorities are even worse.

The state media have produced a perennial drummer of the news that the threat of terrorism in the region is real and would run out of control unless strict security measures were applied.

As a result, many local Han Chinese spoke to support the policy.

"Life has become so much safer in recent years," said a Chinese Han taxi driver, declining to give his name. He said that Xinjiang is safer for everyone now. "Even if I do not want to leave my car on the road, I'm not worried that it's going to be stolen."

Barbed Wire and Watchtowers

At the end of March, CNN traveled to Xinjiang for six days to receive a first visit. Look at the warehouses by hand and try to see three different facilities in three cities several hundred kilometers apart.

The Chinese government has repeatedly condemned foreign media coverage of the camps as inaccurate, and the authorities have said the facilities are transparent.

Beijing has invited diplomats from selected countries to visit the camps in a strictly controlled environment. Many of the diplomats come from countries with their own prudent reports on human rights, including Pakistan, Russia and Uzbekistan.

A select group of journalists visited the camps under similar conditions. Reuters was the only representative of the Western media.

CNN has repeatedly requested permission to visit the camps. All these requests were rejected or ignored.

When CNN attempted to visit the camps, Chinese authorities repeatedly blocked disabilities attempting to film, talk to inmates' relatives and even travel to certain parts of the region.

The nearest CNN to a camp was in a small town called Artux, not far from the town of Kashgar in southwestern Xinjiang.

  Alleged detention center on the outskirts of Kashgar, which wanted to enter CNN but was turned over

The building, which China calls a Voluntary Vocational Training Center, looked much more like a prison. The massive complex was framed by a high wall, barbed wire and watchtowers and a large number of security personnel.

CNN was prevented by the authorities of the institution from filming it openly, even though he had observed the Chinese journalistic laws.

Attempts to talk to dozens of people feeding food to their family members were blocked by nearly 20 security guards and government officials who arrived not long after CNN arrived.

When she was asked, a woman said to CNN mother was "trained" in the camp. Another man said his brother was being held there for vague "ID violations."

But when both were asked for more information, half a dozen civil-clad officials shouted at the man and the woman to be quiet and return to their cars. They did not fight the order.

"Why are you here?"

More than 1,000 miles east of Kashgar lies the city of Turpan. It is a small city by Chinese standards, just over 600,000 inhabitants, surrounded by a wild inhospitable desert.

CNN attempted to see another camp in the city, where he found a large enclosure surrounded by a high wall.

However, when they arrived at the center, they were greeted by the local police, who angrily asked what they were doing there.

Asked about the furniture, a policeman answered angrily, "You do not have to ask, why are you here?" No further access to the camp was granted, and the officer demanded that the footage be deleted.

  Another suspected detention center outside the city of Turpan, which CNN also found inaccessible.

Outside Urumqi, a third camp was completely inaccessible.

A police checkpoint blocked the only road that led to the complex. A few miles from the construction site.

Local drivers were allowed to cross the construction site, but a police officer told CNN that no foreigners were allowed down the street. When asked why he just shrugged his shoulders and asked the team to respect the "local rules".

It is unclear which regulations he referred to.

CNN questioned both the Xinjiang government and the Foreign Ministry about the obstacles they faced in legal journalism in Xinjiang. No answer.

"Love of my life"

Hundreds of kilometers north of the city, it turned out that the city of Toli was also completely out of reach.

Esten Erbol, the father of the two missing girls, believes this In his city, his wife and daughters live with their parents. There he and his wife Adiba Hayrat met for the first time and fell in love.

CNN twice tried to drive to Toli to see the city and find Adiba, but was blocked both times by officials before reaching the city center.

At the first opportunity, local government officials at the nearest airport said it was possible to see the city. On the way there, however, the road was blocked by police who said it was a traffic accident in front of them. No accident was visible on the flat, empty road for miles.

The second time, the CNN team was taken to a small tourist area by the police instead of entering the city, and was forced to attend a banquet hastily arranged in a makeshift yurt

Horse and Lamb served as musicians playing traditional folk music to which government officials enthusiastically danced.

Several requests to leave and see the city were ignored. In the end, the team had to drive back to the airport immediately, so as not to miss the flight.

Despite repeated attempts, the CNN team was unable to locate either Adiba or her daughters.

Esten had sent a message to be passed on his wife, the team should reach them.

"Tell her that her son and I are waiting for her, that we will always be waiting for her and that she is the love of my life," Esten wrote to CNN by text message

Adiba did not hear those words. And it's unclear if she'll ever do it.

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