Primary Accounts

A Uyghur woman braids her friend’s hair to soothe her crying during a private conversation in an unfinished room of the woman’s family house. With the increasing detention of Uyghur men by Chinese authorities, Uyghur women often find solidarity by speaking and working with each other. (Photo by Eleanor Moseman)

The media listed on this page include interviews and testimonies of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and others who have experienced internment and the diasporic communities who are still subjected to intimidation and threat from Chinese state police.


Darren Byler, SupChina, 04 November 2020

‘The atmosphere has become abnormal’: Han Chinese views from Xinjiang

In this piece from Dr. Byler, he explores what it means to be a ‘Xinjiang Han’ in a police state. The article follows the stories of Meng You and Kong Yuanfeng as they negotiate the complicated relationship between Hans and Uyghurs throughout the region. Despite having positive interactions with Uyghur people and the feeling of unease about the policies in place, these testimonies highlight the continued importance of ethnic solidarity (民族团结 Mínzú tuánjié) to Han Chinese.

John Phipps, 1843 Magazine, 15 October 2020

“If I speak out, they will torture my family”: voices of Uyghurs in exile

Darren Byler, NOEMA Magazine, 8 October 2020

The Xinjiang Data Police

Joshua Lipes, Radio Free Asia, 18 September 2020

Uyghur Youth Held After Posting Rare Videos Criticizing Government From Inside China

Between Sept 2 and Sept 4, Miradil Hesen, a young Uyghur man, posted a six-part video series on Youtube criticizing the punishment he received from the Chinese Government for accessing foreign internet, specifically Instagram. Hesen discusses the implication of these charges have his family members, like his grandfather’s inability to access his pension due to the charges and acts of sexual violence against his mother. Hesen dedicates multiple videos to discussing gender violence in Xinjiang, referencing his mother who he claimed was forcibly sterilized by the CCP and had to seek treatment for uterine cancer as a consequence of the procedure. Currently, his whereabouts are unknown.

 Al Jazeera Media Network, September 2020

Living through the Unknown is an interactive long-form article and a VR documentary that emphasizes the struggle of Uighur populations living away from China. There is an interactive component where the reader can follow the lives of four young women fighting to preserve their culture and heritage. The VR documentary tells the story of three different people as they struggle with losing contact with their family members in China, producing a feeling of hopelessness akin to being in limbo.

Confessions of a Xinjiang Camp Teacher
Ruth Ingram, The Diplomat, 17 August 2020

In 2017, Qelbinur Sedik was summoned to a town hall and told that she was one of the brightest teachers in her school. The local government told her she would be helping to teach Chinese to groups of ‘illiterates’ and needed to sign a confidentiality agreement before she began. Sedik had unknowingly agreed to work at one of the vocational training centres in Xinjiang. The following article is an account of what it was like to work in these facilities and documents the horrors experienced there. Sedik’s tale tells of forced sterilizations, removal of limbs, unhygienic conditions that lead to lasting, sometimes fatal, health complications, and what it’s like to lose your students in front of your eyes. Currently, Sedik has fled to Europe where she has recounted her story to the Dutch Uyghur Human Rights Foundation.

Joshua Freeman, The New York Book Review, 13 August 2020

Joshua Freeman’s article traces the lives of several Uighur poets who are currently in exile. The way the diaspora deals with the crisis in the homeland, the sense of loss and the unique nature of poetry give a voice to unspeakable experiences of violence and oppression and provide an account of grief and survival.

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James A. Millward, Medium, 4 August 2020

This account follows the story of Merdan Ghappar, a young Uyghur artist and former dancer, who was held in captivity in a police station in Kucha, Xinjiang. After being moved to a new facility in Guangzhou due to fears surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, he was able to retrieve his phone and contact relatives in Europe. His family received text messages from Ghappar outlining the meager conditions of holding facilities and accounts of psychological and physical abuse. They have not heard from him since.

Darren Byler, SupChina, 1 July 2020

A “5-Star Model Civilized Family” who once had a “small red plaque with five stars on it to the front gate of their house”  became targeted by the authorities for the “crime” of studying in Turkey.

Cha Naiyu, Amnesty International, 16 June 2020

This testimony was written by a Han Chinese person growing up in Xinjiang documents the systemic repression and discrimination that his Uighur peers suffered over the years.

Ira Glass, This American Life, 17 April 2020

Black Box

This episode of This American Life focuses on the story of Abdurahman Tohti and his family who are separated between Xinjiang and Turkey. It shows how China’s grip on Uighur bodies extend beyond the border and showcases the average everyday life of one family under state surveillance, fear of prosecution, and yearnings for family intimacy.

Amnesty International, February 2020

Nowhere Feels Safe

This piece from Amnesty International documents the experiences of Uyghurs living abroad, who also feel reluctant to talk about their relatives living in Xinjiang, over fears of further retaliation.

Sarah A. Topol, The New York Times Magazine, 29 January 2020

This chronicle traces the lives of a “model” Uighur family’s experience of everyday racism, increasing state violence, and eventual internment in “reeducation” facilities despite toeing the party line at every turn.

Gene A. Bunin, The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, 13 December 2019

“There Was No Learning at All”

Abridged first-person account of Xinjiang camp eyewitness Nurlan Kokteubai, delivered at the office of the Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights organization on November 5, 2019.

Nmslese, China Digital Times, 4 November 2019

“What’s Happening in Xinjiang: An Account in Southern Xinjiang during a Visit with Several Party Cadres.”

Nmselese writes about their eye witness account as an ex-CCP journalist during a visit to southern Xinjiang in 2018. They document the differential treatments from the authorities towards Han Chinese and Uyghurs. For instance, at checkpoints, Han Chinese can get through easily while Uyghurs have to be searched thoroughly and many other banal, but revealing details.

Gene A. Bunin, The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, 1 November 2019

“Because you had to do it very quickly, or you could be punished.”

A summary of the interview with Xinjiang camp eyewitness Tursunay Ziyawudun, done at the office of the Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights.

Sayragul Sauytbay.
David Stavrou, Haaretz, 17 October 2019

A Million People Are Jailed at China’s Gulags. I Managed to Escape. Here’s What Really Goes on Inside

Rape, torture and human experiments. Sayragul Sauytbay offers firsthand testimony from a Xinjiang ‘reeducation’ camp.

Joshua Lipes, Believer Magazine, 1 October 2019

Weather Reports: Voices from Xinjiang

This piece from The Believer features Berlin-based journalist Ben Mauk, who interviews Xinjiang survivors who are now living in Kazakhstan.

Former Xinjiang camp teacher Sayragul Sauytbay who fled to Almaty, Kazakhstan, to escape the Chinese government.
Matt Rivers and Lily Lee, CNN, 9 May 2019

Former Xinjiang teacher claims brainwashing and abuse inside mass detention centers

A former employee at a Xinjiang re-education camp recounts of horrific stories of abuse and indoctrination.

Omir Bekali
AFP, Hong Kong Free Press, 22 March 2019

Eat pork, speak Chinese, no beards: Muslim former detainee tells of China camp trauma

For Muslims in China’s re-education camps, indoctrination starts with early morning patriotic songs and sessions of self-criticism, and often ends with a meal of only pork, according to one exiled former detainee.

Katrin Kuntz, Spiegel International, 13 November 2018

An Inside Look at China’s Reeducation Camps

Ex-prisoners who have escaped across the border to Kazakhstan talk about their imprisonment.

Foreign Policy, 28 February 2018

A Summer Vacation in China’s Muslim Gulag

This article from Foreign Policy features an account of Iman, a university student of Uyghur descent studying in the United States, who found himself incarcerated for no reason in a Xinjiang detention centre when returning home for summer break. He was later released and allowed to return to the US, before being warned to be careful of what he says in North America.