Four people standing in front of a building (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)
Uyghurs at the Department of State (left to right): Ferkat Jawdat, Mihrigul Tursun, Gulchehra Hoja and Arfat Erkin (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)

Mihrigul Tursun survived torture and beatings in a Chinese internment camp in Xinjiang. “In my one cell, nine women died,” Tursun said.

She shared her story in a March 26 meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, along with other Uyghur Americans whose family members are still detained in these camps or have been criminally sentenced to prison.

The internment camps in western China are part of a broader campaign by the Chinese government to suppress minority ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identities. More than 1 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other Muslim minority groups have been detained in the camps since April 2017.

“I don’t even know if [my mother] is still alive,” said Ferkat Jawdat, who hasn’t heard from her since Chinese authorities detained her in February 2018. In China’s internment camps, people are reportedly beaten, tortured, forced to renounce Islam and made to memorize Chinese Communist Party propaganda.

Arfat Erkin fears for the 11 family members who have gone missing since 2015, including both his parents. “I stayed quiet. I stayed away from politics. But still my parents got detained,” said Erkin, who came to study in the United States in 2015. He said he doesn’t contact his family there because “it might cause trouble.”

An ongoing campaign of oppression

Twenty-four of Gulchehra Hoja’s relatives have been arrested since she left Xinjiang in 2001 to become a journalist in America.

Woman wearing headscarf (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)
Gulchehra Hoja met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the detainment of her family members by the Chinese. (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)

Hoja was told her reporting on Uyghur issues is what led to the arrest of her family back in Xinjiang.

For her part, Tursun, since telling the world about what happened to her in the Chinese camps, has been harassed several times by what she believes are Chinese security agents in the United States.

In a statement following the meeting, Pompeo praised the Uyghurs’ bravery for speaking out against China’s abuses and pledged the United States’ support to end China’s campaign of repression against Islam and other religions.

At the State Department’s press briefing on March 26, Pompeo responded to a question on the situation in Xinjiang by characterizing it as “historic human rights abuse.”

“We’re working to convince the Chinese that this practice is abhorrent and ought to be stopped,” he said.