Guest Post by Muhammad Atawulla
I am Uyghur. I have two younger brothers who have been detained in Chinese concentration camps for almost two years, and my mother has been detained for six months. My contact with my family has been entirely cut off since May of this year. I don’t have any other information about my family now.
My name is Muhammad. I’m from Ornush village in Hotan County, East Turkestan (aka Xinjiang, China). There are eight people in my family. They are my aged parents, an older sister, four younger brothers and me.
I came to Turkey in May 2016 with a Turkish visa. After I studied math and Turkish language for six months and passed all the related exams, I successfully enrolled at Sütçü İmam University in Kahramanmaraş, Turkey, Feb 2017. Currently, I am studying politics and international relations for a MA degree.
I lost contact with my family in May 2018. Until then I was calling them at least once in a month. In last two years, my family were given a lot of trouble from the local Chinese government and the police. They registered my family as a “closely watched family” just because I am in Turkey and questioned them many times. Police threatened them and asked me to go back to China. But I rejected their request. They forced my family members to ask me to contact the local police. I contacted them. They wanted my student ID and other official documents from my university. I sent them everything that they asked for, but still I ended up with same consequences as my fellow Uyghurs who traveled to Turkey for other reasons.
The Chinese government first detained my youngest brother, 22 year old Ruzimemet Atawulla, in the concentration camp in March 2017. Because he is the youngest one in our family, it made my mother ill. Then they detained my other younger brother, 28 year old Memeteli Atawullah, in Aug 2017. He is a married man with two children; his health is poor and it deteriorated in the concentration camp. The police took him to the hospital because of his poor health and called my parents to pay for the medical treatment. But they didn’t allow my parents to meet with my brother. My mother cried miserably and asked them to allow her to see my brother. The police tried to persuade my mother and told her that “she should be happy because her son is in the concentration camp while many other young men were sentenced to jail.” They then allowed my aged mother to see him for only ten minutes. During their meeting, my brother Memeteli cried and begged my mother to save him. However, nothing changed. The police haven’t released my youngest brother either.
Once, in our phone conversation, my mother told me that the police treated my brother, Memeteli, as a criminal and monitored him all the time. After that hospital treatment, they took my brother away in a police car with armed guards.
In order to free my innocent brothers, my old mother went to every relevant official, from the village to county level, but she got the same answers like “don’t worry, he’ll be back soon,” or “I’m sorry, I can’t put my nose into this type of thing, only the senior level officials can help with it.” Whenever I called my mother, she cried with grievance and told me that “I went to everywhere and pleaded with everyone, but I can’t do anything to release your brothers.”
These struggles and mental tortures broke down my mother and she was given emergency medical treatment a few times. Doctors notified my family that her life was in danger and to be very cautious of her situation. So I tried to speak to her over the phone for a little longer and tried to alleviate her pain with my fake smiles and happiness when I called her; I tried to convince her that the concentration camp was just like a school and my brothers are students, just as I am here. However, my ‘kindest trick’ didn’t work as she had seen what was going on with my brother with her own eyes. However, she tried her best to hide her sorrows from me and conveyed her love and worries about me. At such moments, I felt so powerless and useless for my mother and my entire caring family. I came to Turkey to seek knowledge and for this reason, for studying aboard, I have done a lot of hard work and came with an official permit. Why do the Chinese authorities not respect their own law?! It has started beating me up. It made me feel outraged for the unjust situation of my family.
Yet what has happened to my brothers over 2 years was not the end of the misery of my family. In August 2017 I learned that my brother in-law was sentenced to six years after being detained by police for a week. His crime was listening to a religious speech at mosque a few years ago; more than sixty attendants were all sentenced to more than six years, for the same nonsense reason. As a result, my sister became a widow and her children became orphans. In one of our phone conversations, my mother told me that one of my young nephews was sentenced to five years imprisonment too, for no reason.
“Criminals” are in jail and suffering both physically and mentally; my family members are grieving in helplessness; I myself am a forced migrant in sadness. The days are passing very slowly and painfully. Time has lost meaning to me because I’m sleepless at night and have no spirit during the daytime. My heart aches whenever I called my family as all I heard was such a painful news, one after another, about my close relatives and my friends. I was extremely worried about the safety of my mom in my calls and tried my best to avoid asking her any sensitive questions; every phone call was accompanied with fear and hope…
Because my aged father has a hearing problem usually I spoke to my mom only over the phone. My sister and my brothers do not stay at home very often, so most of the time the person who answered my calls was my mother. In addition, I also worried to speak with the others as I thought chatting with my aged mother would be safer than causing ‘trouble’ to others. Sometimes I felt so scared to dial the number to call my home. Whenever the phone was connected, my heart began to beat very fast. I was getting nervous about one day the one who picked up my phone was not my mom. I always ask about her first, and as long as I learned that she is safe, I will then ask about my brothers. All our conversations carried on with almost same tone, repeated questions and replies. Their reply to my inquires about brothers stayed the same, “they have not been released yet”. I could feel that this tragic situation was very unbearable to my mom. Sometimes I avoided calling them because it is difficult for me to hear my mother sob. Most of all, I was avoiding hearing the worst news about my mother.
But the heart-breaking news finally came on a day in March 2018. My beloved mother was arrested by the Chinese police. I learned this news from my sister in a phone conversation. She told me with all her grieving tears and speechless tones. Her trembling voice, that heart-broken voice of helplessness, is still alive in my ear. The Chinese police arrested my mother with more than twenty older women together from my village. Their only crime was that they read the Holy Qur’an at one of our neighbor’s funeral 4 years ago. The cowardly, brutal Chinese communists, the enemy of humanity, jailed my mother and another twenty Uyghur women in their 70’s, with such a groundless reason as reading a book, a holy book, that millions of other believers read everyday all aroud the world!
After this terrible news, I have only contacted my other familiy members a few times. When I asked about my mother, they were in complete silence as I knew that they feared to say anything related to the police or the local regulations. They began to ignore and later rejected my call. To avoid of making trouble to them, I didn’t call my family over a month. On my last call, I came to know that our home landline was already out of service.
My contact with my dad ended when I got my flight to Turkey as he gave me a tight hug and said goodbye. Because of his hearing issue I was not able to talk to him on the phone, but whenever I called my mom, I knew that he stood next to my mom and tried to listen to our conversations. My mom used to convey his care and concerns about me all the time. He was old and not in good health. So I don’t know how is he living without my mom now.
All the work in my family and the labour on our farm has been loaded onto my other two younger brothers, my sister and my sisters-in-law since my brothers’ imprisonment and my mother’s arrest. On top of that, they are required to attend the so called ‘’open re-education training’’ every evening; as village members, they must attend the flag-raising ceremony, must go to the forced labour that is ordered by the communist regime otherwise they get punishment or fines.
Since May 2018, I haven’t heard a word about my family because of the disconnection of our landline. So I do not know what else happened to my sister and two other younger brothers now. I’ve barely had a peaceful sleep since I learnt of the arrest of my aged mother. Are they still alive? Are they also in the camps? What about my little cousins or nieces? Are they sent to the government funded orphanages???
I am becoming a depressed person. I can’t concentrate on my studies and can’t follow my study plan as well. Life has become a nightmare to me. Even now, I am still trying to push myself to carry on my studies as that was the first and ultimate aim that brought me to Turkey. I wish one day we, the powerless Uyghurs, can earn the basic freedom of human beings and live in peace. Any more wishes may seemed like a luxury at the moment. Please God, help me to save my mother; please make our sorrows and voice be heard to the people of peace and love around the world.
I believe that every Uyghur living in the diaspora has similar or more tragic stories like mine…
15th October, 2018. Ankara, Turkey.
Suggested futher reading:
Families Of The Disappeared: A Search For Loved Ones Held In China’s Xinjiang Region
A tiny office in the heart of the Kazakh city of Almaty is filled with weary-eyed visitors clutching photos of their…www.npr.org
Detained and in danger: The tortured Australian families who fear for their missing loved ones
The security agents came for Adeham Abliz late on a Thursday night. That day, September 8, 2016, had been much like any…www.smh.com.au
Uyghurs: Victims of 21st Century Concentration Camps
After exiled Uyghur communities around the world marched in various capitals, including Brussels, Washington, DC and…thediplomat.com