Updated Mar 23, 2023, 7:36am EDT

‘We are living in hell’: Witnesses set to highlight Uyghur repression before Congress

Demonstrators take part in a protest against China to support the ethnic Uighur community in Istanbul, Turkey, December 9, 2022.
REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo

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A woman who says she witnessed horrific physical abuse, rape, and forced sterilization while teaching at two detention camps in China’s Xinjiang region will testify before Congress this evening.

Qelbinur Sidik, a Chinese-language teacher who is an ethnic Uzbek and who was born in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, says she was recruited in 2017 to teach “illiterate” people and was brought to an all-male detention camp in Xinjiang.

“It is hard for me to remember all of the prisoners, but some of their faces haunt me,” Sidik will say, according to her opening testimony first obtained by Semafor. “One was a man, a former businessman, who already spoke excellent Chinese. As time went on, he began to get thinner and thinner, until one day, like several of my students, he vanished. A guard informed me that he had died of a urinary tract infection. I asked about his body. The guard said he didn’t know what happened to the bodies of students who died. It got harder and harder to keep track of my students, so many would disappear.”

Sidik will also tell the committee that she was forced to receive an IUD device and have a Chinese official, who harassed her, observe her family in their home while living in Xinjiang.

“Many people also do not understand that even outside the camps, we are living in hell,” she will say. 

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Sidik, speaking through a translator, told a small group of reporters Wednesday afternoon that she was eventually able to leave Xinjiang for the Netherlands because she was Uzbek. She said her husband, who is Uyghur, wasn’t able to leave and that she has since lost communication with him.

Sidik is one of two women who will testify Thursday evening before the House’s select committee on China about the country’scrackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, which the U.S. has labeled a genocide. A second woman, Gulbuhar Haitiwaji, says she was detained in China in 2016 after returning to the country from France. Haitiwaji has published a firsthand account of her experience.

“I just want to be the true voice of the voiceless, my people who are unable to speak out on behalf of themselves back home,” Sidik said of her plans to testify on Wednesday. “I will amplify their voices.”

The U.S. has banned goods produced with forced labor in Xinjiang. Committee Chairman Mike Gallagher, R-Wis. told reporters on Wednesday that he wants to improve oversight of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

“The more we place a human face on this problem, the more there will be public pressure to bring companies into compliance with the law,” Gallagher said.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., the committee’s ranking member, said the committee wanted to bring greater awareness to the circumstances in Xinjiang. “It’s shocking that this is happening in the year 2023,” he said. “I think these witnesses are going to be able to speak to that.”


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