ACTNews, JAKARTA – The room where Gulbachar Cililova (54) was sitting that afternoon, Saturday (1/12), did not seem unusual. The room was properly lit as the sun rays penetrated through the glass walls. The cool air from the air conditioner makes the room where Cililova and dozens of journalists were sitting more comfortable. That day, a media discussion entitled “Testimony from Behind Uyghur Prison Camp” was held in a restaurant in Central Jakarta. Unfortunately, despite the comfortable room, Cililova’s mind soared to the stuffy prison camp where she was detained for more than a year.
From May 2017, she was detained inside the 7 by 6 meters, poorly ventilated room along with 40 other women Uyghur prisoners ranging from eighteen to eighty-year-old. The world calls this room a reeducation camp where up to a million ethnic Uyghur were detained and indoctrinated by the local authority.
“The situation inside the camp was terrible. We did all the activities inside the dark, stuffy room, from sleeping, eating, drinking to defecating. There was no barrier. We all could see what other prisoners were doing, including when they were defecating,” Cililova recalled bitterly.
Her mind was once again filled with images with bruised bodies. Some of them were even restrained by having 5-kilogram weight tied onto their feet. She explained that the prisoners received the bruises when they did not comply with the repressive rules imposed by the authority.
She further explained that the prisoners had their activities controlled by the authority. Every day, the detainees’ activities started from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. For hours, they had to face the screen where communist propaganda videos were shown. They would be severely punished if they looked away.
“Those who disobeyed, including those being suspected for doing Islamic prayers (salah) will be brought to a room where they would be severely punished. The room was dark, damp, and full of rats. Inside that room, the detainees received several kinds of punishments. Some were beaten until they were bleeding and bruised; some had their nails removed; and others had 5-kilogram weight put on their feet, among other kinds of punishment,” explained Gulbahar. She admitted that she still clearly remembered the screams of the detainees inside the camp.
Frequently seeing the torments had severely depressed Cililova. Her physical condition worsened, and she lost 20 kilograms during her first month in the camp due to the unhealthy food. In a year, she was hospitalized for at least four times in the prison hospital whose condition was not better than detention room.
“What I experienced was not as bad as what they (Uyghur detainees) experienced. They received even more severe punishments that I did. Some were even sexually violated,” revealed Cililova.
Cililova was detained in the prison camp because she was accused by the Chinese Police Department last year of illegally transferring 17,000 Yuan to someone named Nur Mohammed in Xinjiang.
“The accusation was not true, and I was suspected for being an ethnic Uyghur from Xinjiang. I explained to them that I am a citizen of Kazakhstan. I showed them my Kazakhstani ID Card and all my citizenship documents. But they kept interrogating me and holding me for over a year,” revealed Cililova.
During her detention, she was not able to contact her family in Kazakhstan. Her fellow detainees told her that they did not have any right even for a single phone call. “I later found out that my child had sent me letters, asking my whereabouts. But those letters never reached me,” mentioned Cililova.
In September 2018, she was finally released after the authorities found no evidence that she is an ethnic Uyghur from Xinjiang. Her family relentlessly lobbied the Government of Kazakhstan for her release,
Gulbahar admitted that, although four months has passed, she still strongly remembered the repression and torture faced by the ethnic Uyghurs inside the camp.
“When I was about to be released, other detainees said to me. ‘You are a citizen of Kazakhstan, but you were here and you saw what we faced. The news about the torture is all true. Please tell the people out there about out condition here,’ Their wishes encourage me to tell the world what happens there,” stressed Cililova.