I was shackled, beaten & given a mystery injection inside China’s Uighur camps – then sterilized so I can’t have more kids
LYING in a dark prison cell, with shackles on her wrists and ankles and four cameras watching her every move, Zumret Dawut’s thoughts turned to her children.
“My five-year-old daughter always slept with me at night – she couldn’t sleep without me,” she tearfully recalls. “I was worrying so much about my children, my family, my home.”
Her only ‘crime’, she says, was travelling abroad and receiving international phone calls and bank transfers while running a business with her Pakistani husband.
Her punishment? More than two months chained up at a detention camp in Urumqi in China’s far western Xinjiang region.
It was here that she was allegedly indoctrinated, beaten with batons, and even forcibly medicated.
Mystery injections that ‘stopped periods’
“They used to inject a kind of liquid in our arms every week,” Zumret tells Sun Online in an emotional interview, via a translator.
“We didn’t know what it was. They said the injection would prevent disease. But after the injection, your period just stopped.
“There were some women who’d just given birth at home. We could see their mother’s milk still leaking through their shirts.”
‘Gang-rape & torture rooms’
China has insisted such camps – estimated to have held up to one million people – are vocational education and training centres that counter extremism and separatism.
But former detainees have described them as torture houses – with prisoners allegedly gang-raped by police, mutilated in abuse chambers and brutally battered for acts of kindness.
The Uighurs are a mostly Turkic-speaking Muslim ethnicity with their own culture. The majority – around 11 million – live in Xinjiang, officially called the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Just last week, drone footage sparked global outrage after it appeared to capture blindfolded, bound and shaven-headed Uighur Muslims being herded on to trains in China.
‘I was sterilised by China’
And experts warn the “genocidal atrocity” extends far further than the camps – with the country accused of carrying out mass surveillance, organ harvesting and even sterilising women to slash ethnic minority birth rates.
Zumret, now 38, claims this happened to her.
After eventually escaping the Urumqi hellhole, she says she was forcibly sterilised so she couldn’t have another child. If she refused, she was told, she’d never see her husband of 15 years again.
“My husband said, ‘We promise we’re not going to have any more children. We’ll take any other measures’,” says Zumret. “But they threatened us, so there was no other choice.”
Calls for secretive China to let the world in
HUMAN rights group Amnesty International has called on China to allow independent experts to assess the situation in Xinjiang if it really does have “nothing to hide”.
Nicholas Bequelin, the group’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, tells Sun Online: “We have documented an intensifying government campaign of mass internment, intrusive surveillance, political indoctrination and forced cultural assimilation against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups living in Xinjiang.
“Despite such evidence, China has repeatedly denied that it is carrying out human rights violations in Xinjiang, or even that the camps exist, And it is almost impossible to independently verify their claims given the extreme constraints to reporting in the region.
“But if China has nothing to hide, it should allow independent UN experts to assess the situation and allow Uyghurs and members of other ethnic minorities to freely communicate with their relatives overseas.
“Until now, this is something the Chinese authorities have refused to do.”
One camp survivor, Kairat Samarkan, told Amnesty he was forced to stand in a fixed position for 12 hours when first detained.
He was not allowed to talk to the nearly 6,000 others held in the same camp, and had to chant “Long live Xi Jinping” before meals.
He said his treatment led him to attempt suicide just before his release.
According to an online victims’ database, dozens of Uighurs have died while in custody or soon after their release.
The brave camp survivor – now living in the United States with her family – is among only a handful of women who have made it out of Xinjiang to tell their harrowing stories.
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she described China’s repression of Uighurs – a scandal that has prompted calls for Britain and other nations to take “strong” action.
“This has all the hallmarks of a genocidal atrocity,” Harun Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), tells us.
“Sanctions against China must be imposed, and strong diplomatic power used. If immediate action is not taken, we will be witnessing the total destruction of the Uighur Muslims at the hands of the Chinese Government.”
From mum-of-three to prisoner
Zumret’s nightmare began in March 2018, when she received a phone call ordering her to report to the local police station for an “urgent” matter.
Once there, she says, she was interrogated for hours about her travel history, financial transactions and calls to and from other countries.
At the time, former dance student Zumret was running an import-export business with her husband, while raising their three young kids.
Yet despite answering the officers’ questions truthfully, she recalls: “They looked like they weren’t satisfied with my response.”
Soon after, she was taken away in shackles to a medical centre, where she had her irises scanned, fingerprints taken and was forced to give a blood sample.
As darkness fell, she was then transported to one of China’s ‘concentration camps’. “They call it a re-education centre, but it was just like a prison,” she says.
Forced to strip in front of men
On arrival, Zumret was ordered to change into a prison uniform in front of several men – or face a beating. “I was crying… it was very inhumane and disrespectful,” she tells us.
She was then hurled into a cramped, stinking cell with nearly 30 other women. Above them, cameras glared down from every corner.
“There was only one toilet inside the cell,” Zumret adds. “It was open to everyone… even the camera could see you when you used it.”
‘Numbing’ white pills
During her first 24 hours behind bars, the mum was racked with fear for her children and husband back at home. But the next day, she says, she was forced to swallow a mysterious white pill that left her devoid of emotion.
“They ordered us to open our mouths and checked if we’d swallowed the pill or not,” she recalls. “They said everyone must take it. Afterwards, I didn’t have any anxiety, or worries. I felt a kind of numbness.”
And it wasn’t the only invasive medical measure forced on prisoners.
Though Zumret’s claims of weekly injections that stopped menstruation cannot be confirmed, they tie in with other survivors’ reports of women not having periods and men being left impotent.
She also claims she was regularly sprayed with so-called ‘sanitising’ fluid, ordered to give large blood samples, and had her hair chopped off in a special room. “It used to be very long,” she reflects sadly.
Every day in the camp, Zumret says, prisoners were taken to a classroom, where they were taught communist propaganda and told their religion “is a poisonous ideology like a virus”.
“We sat on the cement ground, it was very cold,” she recalls.
“The teachers used to sit inside a kind of cage, with iron bars. It looked like they were trying to protect them from us.
“The course would last about three to four hours each day. There were very young girls and very old ladies.”
She adds: “After the class finished, before we went out the door, we had to say, ‘There is no God’. Inside, we said ‘God forgive us’.”
Battered for acts of kindness
Away from the classroom, Zumret claims detainees were given meagre meals. One day, she says, she shared her bread with an elderly woman suffering from health issues – but was spotted by ‘Big Brother’.
“The [guards] suddenly came in and began to beat me with a rubber baton,” she recalls. “They beat me for half an hour. I couldn’t stand up until the next day.”
At one point during the savage attack, Zumret screamed out, ‘Oh my God’.
In response, one officer sneered: ‘If your God has power, let your God come to rescue you’. “He then began to beat me more abruptly,” she adds.
At this point, Zumret is overcome with emotion. We take a break for five minutes, before continuing our Skype conversation.
Other prisoners, she tells us, were stripped naked and battered for simply wearing Islamic dress – while some were taken away at night to suffer unknown abuse.
Chinese officials ‘spying in Uighur homes’
CHINA has sent more than one million officials on missions to control the daily life of Uighurs, a new report by the Campaign for Uyghurs claims.
Their role is to stay in Uighur homes for about a week at least once every two months, share the same bed with them if necessary, and “spy on them”.
“During these visits, they encourage drinking of alcohol and eat pork, all of which are forbidden in Islam,” the report says.
“If a Uyghur requests ‘halal meat’ from the market and if they do not drink, they are declared a suspect and sent to the camps.”
The report also claims some women, whose husbands are detained, are forced to share their bed with the Chinese officials.
The situation has been accused of leading to “government sponsored mass rape”, with some of the women subjected to sexual abuse.
A Campaign for Uyghurs spokeswoman tells Sun Online: “It is already [too] late to stop the suffering of the Uighurs as it is now an active genocide, but it may not be too late to save the future of the world from this totalitarian regime.
“The international community must stand up to this ever-growing threat, because it will not stop with just the Uighurs.”
Horrific sex attacks
Former detainees have claimed women are sexually abused in camps – with one even describing how an inmate was gang-raped by cops in front of 200 detainees for ‘sinning’.
“While they were raping her they checked to see how we were reacting,” camp survivor Sayragul Sauytbay told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz last October.
“People who turned their head or closed their eyes, and those who looked angry or shocked, were taken away and we never saw them again.”
And though Zumret didn’t witness any in-camp sexual abuse herself, she tells us: “In our culture, if that happens, women don’t tell anyone.”
She adds: “I’ve seen a lot of women taken at night. They don’t say anything when they get back, they just keep crying. Some women say they want to kill themselves.”
According to Sayragul, ‘sinners’ at her camp were also tortured in a chamber dubbed the ‘black room’. There, some were strung on the wall and beaten with electrified truncheons.
Others were allegedly flayed, forced to sit on a chair of nails, or had their fingernails prised off.
Unsurprisingly, such sickening claims have left the families of camp prisoners – and missing Uighurs – fearing for their loved ones’ lives.
US resident Ziba Murat, 35, constantly worries about her mum, retired doctor Gulshan Abbas, 58, who went missing in Urumqi in 2018 and was recently confirmed to be a camp detainee.
“I can only imagine she is living in hell,” she tells us.
“She has multiple health ailments, including high blood pressure and back pain that would make her immobile. Given what we hear about the condition of these camps, her health can only deteriorate.”
Mum said, ‘ You should get some rest when the baby is sleeping, we’ll talk later’. But that didn’t happen. After that day, she just vanished.Ziba Murat
Recalling the last conversation she had with her mother, Ziba adds: “My baby was three months old. I sent her a picture of her sleeping and she said, ‘ You should get some rest when the baby is sleeping, we’ll talk later’.
“But that didn’t happen. After that day, she just vanished.”
Gulshan, who speaks fluent Chinese, had no criminal record.
Her daughter, who lives in Virginia, adds: “She’s a loving, caring mum and successful doctor who dedicated herself to her community who is now suffering in a modern-day concentration camp because she’s a Uighur.”
Locked up for 50 years
Marketing executive Nursimangul Abdurashid also has family behind bars.
Born in the Xinjiang city of Kashgar, she says she lost contact with her Uighur relatives in 2017, two years after she moved to Turkey to study a master’s degree.
She later learned her two brothers and dad had been taken to “the study”.
But it wasn’t until June 15 this year that she discovered the trio – and her mum – had been sentenced to a combined total of 52 years in prison.
“No one in my family has any record of any violation of the law,” says Nursimangul. “On the contrary, we have always respected law and order and been praised as a model family in our village.”
Her loved ones, she claims, were detained simply because they appreciated the “power of education” and supported her studying abroad.
“Even though I know this is the excuse of the Chinese regime to reach their main agenda – wipe out all the Uighurs – I still can’t stop thinking about if my relatives blame me for this,” she adds.
“I have been living with a pain in my chest for the past three years. Whatever I do and wherever I go, I think about them and worry about their health and wellbeing.”
Fined for third child
For Zumret’s husband, the sudden disappearance of his wife also sparked a desperate search for answers. After learning she was in a camp, he launched a relentless campaign to save her – which saw him visit the Pakistani embassy in Beijing and contact journalists.
In June 2018, Zumret was finally released.
She was escorted from the prison with a black hood over her head, then forced to sign papers saying she’d attended the camp voluntarily and wouldn’t disclose what had happened inside it.
But despite the mum’s joy at being reunited with her family, further terror was yet to come: just months later, still under surveillance, she was forced to pay a 18,400 RMB (£2,000) fine for having a third child.
Afterwards, she says she was forcibly sterilised, as part of what an Associated Press investigation recently found to be a draconian campaign by China to curb its Muslim population.
According to the investigation, many Uighurs are being interned or jailed for having too many kids. One proud dad of seven was allegedly caged for seven years – one for each child.
“It took more than a week to recover from the procedure,” Zumret says. “I didn’t pay for it, but I wasn’t given any documents about it either. There was no proof.”
UK: Uighurs have suffered egregious abuses
BRITISH Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said it is clear that the Uighur minority in China has suffered human rights abuses.
“It is clear that there are gross, egregious human rights abuses going on, which is why in Geneva at the UN we raised this with 27 partners … to call out the government of China for its human rights abuses of the Uighurs, also of Hong Kong,” he told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show earlier this month.
However, Beijing’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, told the same programme that the Uighurs live in “peace and harmony” – as he strongly denied claims of sterilisation and interment camps.
When presented with the recent drone footage purportedly showing Uighur detainees in shackles, he suggested it was “fake”, or could be “transfers of prisoners”.
“I don’t know where you got this video tape from,” he added.
New life overseas
In January 2019, Zumret fled to Pakistan with her family, after telling local officials her father-in-law was seriously ill. She promised to return to China within weeks, but never did.
Today, the family live in America after travelling there on visas they’d received in 2016. They have applied for asylum, and Zumret says: “I feel freedom and peace here, but I’m living in anxiety.”
Since escaping her former hometown, the mum claims she’s received phone threats to stay silent. But with countless other Uighurs still vanishing and being detained, she’s determined to speak out.
“I could keep silent in order to protect my family members. But there are a lot of women still in the camps, they don’t have the chance to speak,” she tells us.