Witness Testimony: Religious crackdown in Urumchi


May 14, 2015

The following incident took place in May, 2014 in Urumchi, several months before a new law enacted by the municipal government in 2015 banned full face veils for women in the city. The author, a young Uyghur male, was in high school when the incident occurred. Identifying details have been changed to protect the author’s identity.

It was about 5 pm, I was waiting for bus No.920 to go to Rebiya Kadeer Mall to see one of my father’s business companions. There were about fifteen people at the bus stop. Suddenly, a police car approaching from the other side of the road stopped sharply right in the middle of the road and a man in a police uniform ran towards the bus stop. He came quickly, grabbed a woman by her shoulder and pulled her to his car, screaming, “Why are you wearing a hijab?!” He said he would take her to the police station.

The driver turned the car around and parked on our side of the road to push her in more easily. The crowd murmured about the disrespectful officer. Some people asked the police officer not to take her and please let her go, but the policeman kept acting forcefully. The woman refused to go to the police station and tried her best to get out of the policeman’s arms. When another policeman came to help pull her into the car, I started to talk with them.

Back then I had plans to go abroad to continue my university education and it was as clear as crystal to me that I should not get involved in any action involving religion, ethnicity or government policy. But I could not tolerate any injustice especially occurring in front of me. The pleas of the crying woman were a humiliation and I could not remain silent.

First, I told the officer very politely that it was unnecessary to take the woman to their station. Unfortunately, he refused my appeal disrespectfully and told me it was none of my business. Calmly, I made the request again and received an even worse attitude. Again I demanded clearly that he not take her to the police station, because she has a poor family and children to feed.

After my strong opposition, there was a dangerous atmosphere of anger among the people around us. The officer agreed to let the woman go if she had a Chinese ID card. I asked her for the Chinese ID card and she said she forgot it at home. I gave her my phone and she called her sister to bring her ID to the bus station. Her sister came with her brother’s wife. I took the ID from her and gave it to him. He checked the ID and demanded all three women go to the police station. He had apparently lied to us all, and I supported the women as they opposed him. After he mercilessly refused my appeals again and again, the officer warned me that a headscarf is a form of religious clothing, which is illegal, and he ordered me to stop intervening before I regretted my actions. He pushed me back and started to beat me with his baton. Then I told him that I would not stop opposing him, because what I was doing was right!

After that the police called the police station and told them in Chinese that there was a protest going on.

A few minutes after the dispute began, two police cars arrived full of SWAT units and special forces. They forcibly pushed me and the three women into the big black car and took us to their police station. I did not oppose them because I knew that they had the ability to shoot everyone who was involved.

When we were taken to the station in the dark black car, I never believed that I would see the sunlight again. The sister of the woman apologized that I was in trouble because of them. I said it was ok but apparently it was not. I asked myself why I had exchanged my bright future for the darkness? I tried to stay calm, knowing from the beginning that there would be consequences.

The car stopped in front of the front door of the police station. The sheriff and some Chinese policemen came out of building and asked the officer who was taking us out of the car what had happened. He replied, “They were protesting!”

The sheriff said, “Lock them up!”

They asked my relationship to the women, and I said I didn’t know them.

The police scolded me with dirty language and said, “If there are two  people in the world who are stupidest, the first one would definitely be you and the second one is also you!”

They took my bag and all my possessions, even my shoes, and gave me a five digit number. There were two detaining rooms full of Uyghur people, mostly youth. Common among them was that everyone had a beard. They pushed me into the room on the left side. The detainees told me they had been detained because they grew beards. The policeman yelled at them, “Shut up!”

I went to the corner of the room and at that very moment I truly realized that there was nobody to help me but God. At that time, I was prepared for everything, even death. Therefore, I was never scared. The biggest fear for man is death, and if he has the courage to stare in the eyes of death, what could possibly make him fear?

One of the other detainees informed us that we would be taken to prison at midnight. The people detained the previous day were taken the night before. It was about to be midnight, when suddenly someone called my father’s name. I didn’t care, as there were many people with the same name. They called the name again and again. Nobody answered, until a policeman asked all of us whose ID he had. He was grabbing my father’s ID. I said it was mine. They took me to the other questioning room. There was a black chair called the “Tiger Chair,” which was higher than normal chairs and full of equipment I had never seen before. There were two shackles used to encircle and fasten the ankles below, and for the wrists above. The chair’s dark black color and huge body scared me. Maybe that’s why others call it the “Tiger Chair.”

They asked many questions about my relationship with the women and why I got involved. They went crazy from anger when I said it was wrong to arrest or imprison someone because she wears a headscarf.

One of the policemen said, “Who do you think you are to say it’s wrong or right? You are here to obey, if you can’t, I will teach you how to obey!”

He took a half finished water bottle and started to beat the left side of my face, then the right side, then the left, continuously. I could only remember my vision blurring. My mouth was full of blood and I thought all my teeth had gone, but they had not, thank God.

Then they took me to the sheriff’s office. I knew him. His name is Adil. Others call him Adil Juyjang (Chinese word for police station chief).

He talked a lot, and I did not have any energy to dispute. Whatever he said I replied, “Yes.” The last thing he told me was to never stop or even look when something is going on between people and the police. He said if he sent me to prison then, I would never get out of prison, even if I spent a hundred million RMB.

After some time, they released me through the back door. I left the police station after midnight. At that time, I did not know why they released me. After two weeks, my father asked me whether I was arrested for protesting. I told him what happened and he answered my question. My father had lent Adil 40,000 RMB, and after my detainment, Adil told my father that he would not return the money because of my release. Thus, I survived not because of the mercy of a policeman, but because of the power of bribery and the coincidence of God-given chance. But not everyone, including the women who were arrested together with me, is as lucky.