The Story of How a Kazakh Woman Survived China’s Re-education Camps

Sayragul Sauytbay.

Sayragul Sauytbay was detained and tortured at a Chinese re-education camp. (Image: Screenshot via YouTube)

When talking about the persecution of Muslim minorities in China, the Uyghur community largely takes the spotlight in the international media. But there are others who are targeted for cultural genocide, with the minority Kazakh community being one of them. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, a 43-year-old Kazakh woman named Sayragul Sauytbay reveals the torture she has had to face at one of the “re-education” camps run by the Chinese government.

Persecuting Kazakhs

Sauytbay was employed as a teacher in state preschools prior to her detention. In 2014, her husband and children left the country. She was hoping to join them as soon as she got her exit visa. Unfortunately, this was not to happen.

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By the end of 2016, Sauytbay noticed that the government was arresting people at night. DNA samples of minorities were taken. At a meeting, the local authorities announced that re-education centers were being opened to “stabilize” the region.  

A Kazakh woman escaped persecution.
Some people had their fingernails ripped off. (Image: via Pixabay)

In January 2017, Sauytbay’s worst fears came true. Officials came to her home at night, put a black sack on her head, and took her to jail. The authorities ordered her to call her husband back home. Realizing that this would put him in danger, she cut off contact with her husband after her release. And in November 2017, she was taken to a place that would become her “re-education” center.

The camp

At the facility, the authorities made her sign a document that listed the camp’s rules and her responsibilities. “I was very much afraid to sign… It said there that if I did not fulfill my task, or if I did not obey the rules, I would get the death penalty. The document stated that it was forbidden to speak with the prisoners, forbidden to laugh, forbidden to cry, and forbidden to answer questions from anyone. I signed because I had no choice, and then I received a uniform and was taken to a tiny bedroom with a concrete bed and a thin plastic mattress,” she said to Hareetz.

According to Sauytbay, there were about 2,500 prisoners in the camp, with some being as young as 13 years of age. Anyone who did not follow the rules was punished severely. Some people had their fingernails ripped off. She was also forced to witness the gang rape of a woman who was made to “confess” her sins naked in front of 200 prisoners.

The prisoners who averted their eyes or were angry were taken away and never seen again. Some of the inmates were also subjected to medical experiments. Sauytbay was beaten on one occasion. When new members were brought in, an elderly Kazakh woman rushed toward Sauytbay and embraced her. Even though she did not reciprocate the embrace, the guards beat her up and did not provide food for two days.  

As far as meals were concerned, it was offered three times a day and was comprised of a slice of bread and soup. On Fridays, the camp provided meat, but only pork. All the inmates were forced to eat it even if they were strictly following Islam. Those who did not eat were given severe punishments. Due to lack of sleep, poor nourishment, and bad hygiene, the inmates ended up being “bodies without a soul.”

Inmates were forced to eat pork.
Inmates were forced to eat pork. (Image: via Pixabay)

In March 2018, she was released and asked to get back to her teaching post. However, she was soon accused of treason and threatened with up to three years in a re-education camp. Realizing that the torture wouldn’t end, she escaped to Kazakhstan. Sauytbay was eventually granted asylum in Sweden where she currently resides with her family, far away from the clutches of China’s communist regime.

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