The “concentration camps” in Xinjiang are part of the biggest internment programme since the Third Reich, says Sayragul Sauytbay, and those trapped in them are “a colony of slaves”. Having survived life in one of the camps, she is determined to expose China’s atrocities to the world, and tells her story in a new book, The Chief Witness.
Sayragul, 44, was born in a yurt to a family of semi-nomadic herders near Kazakhstan, says Damian Whitworth in The Times. She trained as a doctor, then a teacher, ending up in charge of five nursery schools. By then China had turned Xinjiang into a giant surveillance state; one day she found out her three-year-old son had had his mouth taped shut for speaking his native language.
Her husband and children escaped to Kazakhstan in 2016, but she, as a public sector worker, had handed over her passport. Soon afterwards she was abducted at night, with a hood over her head, ending up in a camp where she was forced to teach English to the terrified inmates and to live in a tiny cell.
One day she was taken to the “black room”. Suspected of having recognised an old lady, she was tortured in an electric chair. Later the lady was taken there to have her fingernails removed. Sayragul was lucky. She was set free and fled undetected to Kazakhstan. Finally happy, but in constant fear, she now lives in Sweden.
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