Confessions of a Xinjiang Camp Teacher
By Ruth Ingram on The Diplomat August 17, 2020 .
Qelbinur Sedik reveals the horrors she witnessed in the camps, where she was forced to teach Mandarin in 2017.
Qelbinur Sedik has witnessed wanton cruelty, gratuitous violence, humiliation, torture, and death meted out to her people on an unimaginable scale — but has been forced to keep the crushing secret until now.
When she first arrived in Europe, she was so traumatized she could barely speak about her ordeal. Then she found the Dutch Uyghur Human Rights Organization (DUHRO), where people patiently listened through her many tears. The DUHRO wrote down her story, calling it “Qelbinur Sidik: A Twisted Life.” Through it, she now feels ready to tell the world what she saw in the internment camps of Xinjiang.
This account is based on excerpts from the memoir and my own interviews with her.
Her personal story begins 51 years ago in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwestern China. A middle child in a family of six children, she remembers her childhood warmly. Her parents emphasized honesty and education, and each child grew up to become a valued member of society, some even taking government jobs.
She started her teaching career in the Chinese language department of Number 24 Primary School in the Saybagh region of downtown Urumqi. By April 2018, she had worked there for 28 years. But as a rookie teacher in 1990, with life before her, she could never have envisaged the tidal wave of destruction that would engulf her people and its culture.
Rumblings of change had already started in 2004, when schools were ordered to become bilingual in both Mandarin and Uyghur, but Qelbinur — as a Chinese teacher in the capital where most schools taught in both languages anyway — took little notice. Rumors spread via friends in 2016 that people had been arrested for praying also made little impact. When a colleague confided in her that women were being called together in groups for sterilization procedures, she found it hard to take in.
“We thought that things like that couldn’t happen to us,” she said.
But gradually the signs were impossible to ignore. Once Chen Quanguo was imported to govern Xinjiang, after quelling Tibet, the tide of surveillance, mass arrests, compulsory health checks, removal of children to state orphanages, and dismantling of the culture and religion was unstoppable.ADVERTISEMENT
From September to November 2016, Qelbinur’s school began selecting its best teachers, not only for teaching skills but for their political ideology and family background. She passed with flying colors.
On February 28, 2017, as Qelbinur recounted in her memoir, she was summoned to the town hall. She was told she would be teaching Chinese to “illiterates,” but strangely, for this mission she was made to sign a confidentiality agreement. A secret rendezvous was fixed for March 1, at 7 a.m., where she was told to wait at a bus stop and call a police officer to pick her up.
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