How Xinjiang’s gulag tears families apart

Oct 17th 2020

So many parents have been locked up that officials struggle to cope with the left-behind children.

For zumrat dawut’s three children, Fridays were terrifying. That was the day when officials would question students at their schools in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang in China’s far west. The interrogators were looking for clues about their lives at home. They wanted to know whether parents prayed or used Islamic greetings at home, or talked to the children about the prophet Muhammad. The information they gleaned could result in a family member being sent to a “vocational training centre”, the government’s euphemism for a camp in Xinjiang’s new gulag.

As Ms Dawut describes it, ethnic Uyghurs like her were under constant watch. Her children suffered the effects as much as their parents. Every Monday they were not in school she had to take them to the courtyard of her block of flats to watch the raising of China’s flag, whether in freezing winter temperatures or in blazing summer heat. Participants were careful to look cheerful. Not only were the officials watching for signs of dissatisfaction; every family had to keep an eye on ten neighbouring families, and report anything suspicious by putting notes in a box at each ceremony.