No Place Safe
When I was a child my mother was often dragged out of the house with her hands tied.
They said she was an enemy of the state.
What she definitely was, was educated and not a Communist.
She taught me our true history.
Adel Abdulghufor is a Uighur Muslim from Kashgar, in what he calls the country of East Turkestan.
Officially, the region is called Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and is part of China.
With the creation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Xinjiang came under communist control, after decades of turbulence and outside interference.
In the 1990s, separatist movements there grew after the Soviet Union fell and independent Central Asian Muslim-majority countries emerged.
In recent years China has ramped up its crackdown on separatists and activists in Xinjiang.
About one million Uighurs are currently believed to be held in Chinese “re-education camps,” where the U.S. accuses China of committing “crimes against humanity” including torture and forced labor.
China says the camps are lifting people out of poverty.
Before it was prisons, now there are camps.
In 1997 there were protests in Ghulja. For three days we were on the streets.
Adel says helicopters dropped liquid on the protesters.
People's clothing froze. I saw people die on the streets.
Protesters later circulated pictures of frostbitten fingers and toes.
We wanted to be nationalists. We wanted to celebrate our Islamic holidays.
Human rights groups call this day the “Ghulja Incident.”
Authorities broke up the protests and hundreds of people were arrested, injured, or killed.
Thousands more arrests followed.
I hid out for three days and then went to Beijing to get a [fake] passport to flee to Turkmenistan.
I was arrested in the airport as I was boarding the plane and sentenced to 14 years in prison.
They said I was part of a violent separatist group and took me to prison in Kashgar.
For the first three months in prison we were packed into a cold room with no blankets.
When they took us out to use the bathroom they chained us together.
If someone needed ‘to go’ more than once in the day they went in the room so the air was toxic.
After three years I was sent to another prison in Urumqi.
There we slept 30 to a room, with one open toilet that was cleaned out every two or three days.