About seven years ago, people around me started disappearing.
It began slowly, quietly. The editors of a well-known literature textbook were suddenly nowhere to be found. A friend of mine left for work and never came home.
My family and I are Uyghurs, and at the time we were living in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China. The political situation in our region had been growing gradually more tense for several years, but still, we hoped and assumed that these disappearances were isolated incidents.
Pretty soon, however, the scope of what was happening became terribly clear.
Since 2017, the Chinese government has carried out a program of mass internment in my homeland. In that time, over one million people — Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities — are estimated to have been placed in concentration camps referred to as “re-education centers.”
Some of my friends who disappeared in the early stages of this campaign were, we later learned, arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Others seemingly vanished without a trace.
For those who have never been through something like this, our tragedy is probably difficult to imagine. A decade ago, I couldn’t have imagined it myself. When catastrophe came for us, it crept up so gradually that at first we couldn’t see it for what it was. That’s how it often comes. [Continue reading…]