Imprisoned for the Wrong Time on Watch

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Clarion Project spoke to Ahmatjan Osman about the political prison camps in East Turkistan that China’s Uighur Muslims are being sent to by the Chinese government. The Uighurs mainly live in East Turkistan, a territory that is occupied by the Chinese military. Osman is the president of the “East Turkistan Government in Exile.” He resides in Toronto, Canada and spoke with Clarion Project’s Ran Meir. Below the interview, you will find a clip from Meir’s conversation with Osman.

Clarion Project: What can you tell us about the “political education camps” in China? How long have they been active? Is it true that 100,000 Uighur Muslims are being held there?

Ahmatjan Osman: These prison camps are like the Nazi prison camps that held Jews in World War II. There is no limit to how long the government can keep you in these camps. If arrested, the minimum time in the camps is one year.

I have some information and I have reason to believe that the numbers are much higher than 100,000 arrested Uighurs. It is more like somewhere between 500,000 to 800,000 in all of East Turkistan. These camps politically “re-educate” the prisoners.

More than 20 people are put in one room in these camps. The rules of the camp are like a military regime. Lights are turned off at midnight. Prisoners need to be awake by 5 am for flag-raising. Then the national anthem is sung.

Between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., prisoners are indoctrinated with Chinese laws and politics as well as Communist party protocols.  They also learn old revolutionary Chinese songs. The lyrics of one, for example, are: “Without the new Communist party, the new China would not have risen.”

Three meals a day are given. Breakfast is just rice cereal, lunch consists of rice with no meat and perhaps a small amount of vegetables and dinner is steamed bread. Before every meal, prisoners must sing Chinese songs, praise the Chinese Communist party and Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, and chant revolutionary slogans. Only then can they eat.

Prisoners in the camps experience a serious deterioration in their health. People get all kinds of strange diseases, and no one knows why. People have suggested that the authorities are tampering with their food. The last we heard was that laundry detergent was being put in the food, giving the prisoners diarrhea.

Some die in the camps and some are left with diseases they didn’t come in with. For example, one woman’s son went missing in 2009 in the riots of Urumqi. Afterwards, was sent to the camps. By the time she was released, she had become mute and closed off to the world.

The worst tragedy is the children. Entire families are sent to the camps, but when they arrive, the children are taken from their parents and put in orphanages. The orphanages became so full that, according to rumors, some children were placed in orphanages inside China.

We are very worried about the fate of the children. Everyone that enters these camps has to undergo a medical exam and have a DNA sample taken. We don’t know the reason for the sample-taking.

Ahmatjan Osman
Ahmatjan Osman

Clarion: What are the main reasons they put people in these camps?

Ahmatjan Osman: China claims that it needs to fight three major opposition forces in East Turkistan: People with separatist aspirations, those who espouse religious Islamic extremism and terrorists. Since China passed a law to fight terror in East Turkistan, they make arrests without warrants or court intervention. These arrests can be made solely on suspicions of connection to one of these three groups.

All of the people in the camps are either suspected of being part of one of these three groups or connected to a person who has already been arrested for connection to one of these groups. People from all strata of society have been arrested including teachers, students, university scholars, doctors, lawyers, merchants and writers.

Clarion: What do you think about the Chinese government’s claims that the Uighur are easily influenced by extremist ideologies?

Ahmatjan Osman: Of course all of these are lies that the government makes up. They are just looking for excuses to establish these camps and make random arrests. They assume that the Uighur people are extremists, and that they are connected to one of the three groups.

I’ll give you an example of how people are thrown into these camps. It is important first to note that there is a two-hour time difference between Beijing, the capital of China, and Urumqi, the capital of East Turkistan. People who have been caught setting their clocks according to Urumqi time have been put in prison because that is considered to be a separatist activity.

Clarion: The Uighur have been persecuted by the Chinese authorities for years. What makes this last year so special?

Ahmatjan Osman: You and I met a year ago, and we talked about the possible threat of ISIS in China. I told you then that the increased oppression we saw in 2017 was related to China’s desire to make one straight road across the country for trade purposes. So for this to become a reality, China must turn East Turkistan into a safe zone.

That is why they occupied the area militarily. These camps are just one manifestation of a military-occupied area. They are connected the one-road project that will make China an economic and international superpower. This “silk road” will go from China, pass through East Turkistan and continue to spread from there. The success of this project is directly linked to securing East Turkistan.

Clarion: Do you think China wants to annex East Turkistan?

Ahmatjan Osman: Yes, of course. That is why it is now a military-occupied territory. They do whatever they want without considering laws and without the courts — including arrests, oppression and the ethnic, national and cultural annihilation of the Uighur people.

Clarion: What can the world do to help?

Ahmatjan Osman: I want to say that what is happening in East Turkistan is not just a violation of human rights. It’s also not a religious issue because the Hui people (an ethnic group that lives in northwestern China), for example, are all Muslims but they don’t suffer from the same policies and oppression.

It’s also not a domestic Chinese issue, because if it were, there would be camps inside China and we would see at least one Chinese person in these camps, but you won’t find any. That is why I consider these camps to be crimes against humanity.

China is a colonizer which wants to eliminate the identity of those they are colonizing. Its genocide, ethnic cleansing. That’s why the international community cannot stay silent regarding these crimes and they must do something. They need to stop all of these crimes and shut down these camps.



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Ran Meir

Ran Meir is Clarion Project's Arab affairs analyst and a Shillman Fellow. He can be reached at [email protected]

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