Tursunay Ziyawudun was in tears when she recounted her time as an Uyghur living in China, where she was heavily persecuted by the authorities of the Chinese Communist Party. China has been known for years to commit human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where they are often subjected to forced labor, sterilizations, and conversions to denounce their faith.
"I was locked up in camps two different times. The second time was even more inhumane than the first, and my experiences in these Chinese camps have left indelible scars on my heart," Ziyawudun lamented to the crowd at the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington DC, as reported by the Christian Post. The Uyghur woman recalled how she was held at a Chinese concentration camp for the second time in March 2018, during which she was detained for about a year.
Ziyawudun revealed that the Chinese concentration camp was equipped with new buildings that "looked similar to prison," as well as "many cameras" and "armed police officers." The Uyghur woman who surived the Chinese concentration camp also recalled how she and other Muslim minorities were shown "[shown] propaganda films, taught Chinese law [and] Chinese 'red' songs," and made to "swear oaths of loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party."
Ziyawudun admitted that in the Chinese concentration camp, she and other Uyghurs "always lived in fear...passed the days in fear," and "[listened] to the sounds of screaming and crying voices, wondering whether what was happening to them would happen to us too."
Uyghur women in the Chinese concentration camp, including Ziyawudun, were also raped by police officers. She recounted how she was once taken outside at night along with a woman who was in her 20's. Both of them were raped, with Ziyawudun being the victim of three Han police officers. She said that some young women were abused to "near the point of death" and some women never came back to the cells.
Ziyawudun admitted that despite now being far away and safe from the Chinese concentration camps after she settled in the U.S. with assistance from the U.S. government and the Uyghur Human Rights Project, she still has "nightmares" about her horrific abuse at the hands of Chinese authorities. She said that as long as her voice and her "physical body is free," she will use it to speak out and spread awareness about China's human rights abuses against the Uyghurs.
"Millions of Uyghurs are suffering and they are alive only because they have the hope and belief that there is justice in this world," Ziyawudun said during her speech. "As a survivor, I will not stop - not even for one minute - being a voice for all the people who have not survived, and for the people in East Turkistan who are trapped in a hellscape, placing their hope in the outside world."
According to Vatican News, the first ever International Religious Summit took place in Washington DC from July 13 through 15 and was supported by the US Catholic Bishops' Conference. The summit's goal is to "provide insights on international religious freedom and address violations against religious liberty, while providing a support group for those who are being persecuted for their faith."