Uyghur concentration camp survivor '100%' supportive of efforts to boycott Beijing Olympics
This is part 5 of The Christian Post's series on China's human rights abuses under the spotlight of the Olympic Games and features the testimony of a Uyghur Muslim woman who was persecuted under the communist regime. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 6 and part 7.
The survivor of a Chinese concentration camp is expressing support for efforts to boycott the Beijing Olympics, joining a long list of public figures and human rights activists hoping to make this year’s Winter Games “the least-watched Olympics” in history.
Mihrigul Tursun, a Uyghur Muslim woman who was detained in Chinese concentration camps on three different occasions, detailed her experiences in an interview with The Christian Post. Tursun was one of millions of Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority residing in the far-western Chinese province of Xinjiang. From the perspective of Uyghurs, Xinjiang constitutes occupied territory.
Uyghurs instead refer to their native homeland as East Turkistan and believe that China has illegally occupied the area since December 1949. Many residents of East Turkistan or Xinjiang now reside in the U.S. Several U.S.-based Uyghurs are part of the East Turkistan Government in Exile, the region's democratically elected leadership, and the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement, which seeks to officially restore East Turkistan as an independent republic.
These groups frequently lobby the U.S. State Department to push for recognition and representation on the world stage. The Uyghurs have been subject to adverse treatment by the Chinese Communist Party, which has sought to strip the group of their identity and culture and turn them into loyal servants of the state by detaining them into what critics describe as concentration camps. The CCP refers to these facilities as re-education camps and claims that they are necessary to root out extremism.
At last summer’s inaugural International Religious Freedom Summit, concentration camp survivor Tursunay Ziyawudun recalled that she was raped and exposed to Chinese propaganda films during her detention. A video preceding her remarks explained that “1 [million] to 3 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims” have been detained in concentration camps since 2016.
Additionally, detainees at Uyghur concentration camps are often subject to forced labor. A study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that several prominent corporations are “directly or indirectly benefitting from the use of Uyghur workers … through potentially abusive labor transfer programs.”
The 83 companies singled out in the ASPI report include: Abercrombie & Fitch, Acer, Adidas, Amazon, Apple, Calvin Klein, Cisco, Dell, Gap, General Electric, General Motors, Google, Hewlett Packard, L.L. Bean, Lenovo, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, Nike, Nintendo, The North Face, Panasonic, Polo, Ralph Lauren, Samsung, Sharp, Skechers, Sony, Tommy Hilfiger, Toshiba, Victoria’s Secret and Volkswagon.
Elected officials in Washington have made efforts to prevent businesses from taking advantage of forced labor.
President Joe Biden signed into law the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would ban goods made by Uyghurs subject to forced labor from entering the U.S. market. The measure unanimously passed the U.S. Senate, and all but one member of the House voted to approve the legislation.
The belief that China has committed genocide against the Uyghurs cuts across party lines. The administration of former President Donald Trump, a Republican, classified the Chinese government’s actions against Uyghurs as genocide shortly before leaving office last year, while the Biden administration imposed sanctions on top Chinese officials in response to what it also described as genocide.
The Beijing Olympics
The Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs is one reason why many religious freedom advocates have expressed outrage that this year’s Winter Olympics is taking place in China's capital of Beijing. While the Biden administration has implemented a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, meaning that no representatives from the U.S. government will attend, U.S. athletes are participating in this year’s Winter Games. The competition kicked off Friday and will last through Feb. 20.
For many, including the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement and the East Turkistan Government in Exile, these diplomatic boycotts of what they refer to as the “Genocide Games” do not go far enough. Salih Hudayar, the Prime Minister of East Turkistan Government in Exile and founder of the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement, characterized the diplomatic boycotts as “weak” and launched the #LeastWatchedOlympics campaign.
“[We are] urging everyone across the world to join the Uyghurs in solidarity to protest China’s ongoing genocide in East Turkistan and to make the Beijing Winter 2022 Olympics or the Genocide Games the least-watched Olympics,” he said.
The two groups held a rally at Lafayette Park in front of the White House Saturday, a day after the Olympics kicked off, to denounce the Beijing Olympics and to reiterate their repeated demands that the U.S. government and the international community take more decisive action against China. Attendees held signs advertising the #LeastWatchedOlympics campaign and recognized the 25th anniversary of the Ghulja Massacre that led to the deaths of hundreds of Uyghurs.
Protesters directed several chants at the White House, including “Don’t support Genocide Games,” “Don’t support Genocide Olympics,” “Don’t watch Beijing Olympics,” “#LeastWatchedOlympics” and “Withdraw from Beijing 2022.”
In addition to elected officials, prominent public figures have asked their followers to take further action by boycotting the Beijing Olympics altogether because of China’s record of human rights abuses. Last month, Fox News opinion host Laura Ingraham launched the “Not One Minute” campaign, asking her viewers to watch “not one minute” of NBC’s Olympics coverage. Tursun indicated that she was “100%” supportive of the effort. She also spoke favorably of the diplomatic boycotts.
Like millions of other Uyghurs, Tursun has experienced the horrors of a concentration camp and detention firsthand. Born in Cherchen, Xinjiang, Tursun attended elementary school in her homeland before heading off to middle and high school in China. After attending Guangzhou University in China, she studied at British University in Egypt.
Tursun married an Egyptian and gave birth to triplets in Egypt in early 2015. In May 2015, when her children were 3 months old, Tursun was detained for the first time at the airport in Xinjiang’s capital city of Urumqi, as she returned to the region from Egypt.
Tursun’s children were taken away from her for the duration of her detention, which lasted about two months. When she went to pick up her children, she could only see two of them and was told that she could not see her third child, Muhammad, until the next day because he was in poor health.
When she showed up the following day to see Muhammad, she was informed that he had died. Tursun believes that the negligence of the Chinese Communist Party caused her son to die.
Tursun told CP that her two surviving children were in “very bad condition” when she saw them for the first time in two months. Both of the children had scars on their necks. Upon picking up her children at a children’s hospital, she encountered other children with “injections in their [hands].”
Nearly seven years later, both children continue to have lingering health problems, which Tursun attributed to their separation from her when they were 2 months old and their resultant inability to consume breastmilk. Specifically, her son has “asthma and also his heart and [lungs] have … [problems].” Her daughter, meanwhile, has very poor vision and has had eye surgery on two separate occasions.
Additionally, Tursun’s son is incontinent and has to wear a diaper. Medical officials believe that something happened to his head when he was little and have told her that he will require brain surgery when he is older. Right now, they see performing such a procedure as “very difficult” and “dangerous.” Both of Tursun’s children are now enrolled in kindergarten.
“I don’t know what they gave my children,” she lamented. “I don’t know anything.”
Concentration camps: ‘Physical and psychological torture’
After her release from detention in 2015, Tursun went to live with her parents in Cherchen, where she was subject to 24-hour surveillance from CCP officials. Tursun was detained on two additional occasions. In April 2017, she was forced into a camp where 60 women were crowded into a 430 square-foot room. She was detained in that camp for three months.
During this detention, Tursun faced “physical and psychological torture,” including “beating” and “electric shock.”
When she was detained a third time in 2018, Tursun wore different colored prison clothing than she had worn in her previous detentions because they regarded her as a “dangerous prisoner.” She wore blue clothes during her first two detentions and wore orange clothes in her third detention.
At times, Tursun was separated from the main area where most prisoners slept and put in solitary confinement because of her status as a dangerous prisoner. Her third stint in a Chinese concentration camp lasted for more than six months.
While Tursun was not forced to do labor, many other women in the camp were. She reported that many of these women hurt their hands from the strenuous labor, and at times, she saw “a lot of blood” coming from their hands.
She elaborated on the harsh living conditions and sleeping arrangements imposed on the prisoners. According to Tursun, there were no beds in the camp. Instead, 60 women, referred to by numbers instead of their names, were given only blankets to sleep on and did not have pillows.
Because of the cramped living conditions, all of the women could not sleep at the same time, and therefore, the women would take turns sleeping for shifts of about two hours. She likened the bathroom to a “box,” adding that “everyone [can] see” the women when they go to the bathroom.
Women were limited to three bathroom trips a day and had to ask permission each time they sought to use what passed as the facilities. She recalled that when women had their request to use the bathroom denied, they would be forced to urinate or defecate in their pants.
Upon her release from the third concentration camp, Tursun sought to return to Egypt to drop her children off with her husband, whom she thought was still residing there. The Chinese government allowed her to return to Egypt but not before forcing her to pledge allegiance to China. Additionally, she was instructed to come back to China after two months or risk the detention or death of her family members.
After arriving in Egypt, Tursun learned that her husband had also been detained by Chinese authorities and determined that she was unsafe there. She subsequently informed U.S. diplomats about her situation, and they agreed to help her and her children move to the U.S. She now lives in Virginia, where she has resided since late 2018. Since then, she's traveled to other states where she recounted her harrowing testimony at universities and other events.
Tursun has also shared her story with other media outlets, including CNN. In a previous interview with CNN, she vowed that when her children became older, she would tell them that the Chinese government had killed their brother.
More than three years after the CNN interview, Tursun explained to CP that she has yet to tell her children the complete details about what happened to their brother. She has told her children that they once had a brother, whom they have seen a picture of.
Whenever they ask where he is, she tells them that “he is in China.” She vowed that “when they … grow up” and “their mind is good, I will tell them everything” in addition to impressing on them to “never, ever forget [that the] Chinese government killed your brother.”
At the time of the CNN interview, which was published in early 2019, Tursun was “working through the U.S. asylum process.” She gave an update about her asylum status in her interview with CP, reporting, “My asylum process until now is pending.” She ultimately concluded that whether or not she receives asylum is “not important because … whatever happens, I am in this safe country, and I love this country.”
Tursun predicted that she would spend the rest of her life in the U.S., praising the country for providing her with a life of “safety with my kids.” Although she initially lived in fear of the CCP immediately after arriving in the U.S., she maintains that all concerns of retaliation have disappeared now that she has settled in: “Because I am in … one of the [strongest] countries in the world … they cannot do anything [to] me and the U.S. government is behind me all the way.”
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: email@example.com