Global Tuidang Center



Ethnic Kyrgyz Christian Detained and Tortured in Concentration Camp 

Chinese President Xi Jinping and former Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong flank a cross inside a church. credit: Liang Zhang

Gao Zhensai | ChinaAid

Washington – An Ethnic Kyrgyz Christian, a survivor of severe torture in a concentration camp in Xinjiang, arrived in the United States on Friday night of April 8 with his family of three.

Ovalbek Turdakun, also known as Joseph, is an ethnic Kyrgyz Christian from Xinjiang, China. He and his wife Zhyldyz Uraalieva and son Daniyel Ovalbek were successfully rescued. They boarded the plane from Istanbul Airport and arrived at Washington Dulles Airport in the United States.

“I want to give thanks to our God,” Joseph expressed his gratitude after touching the ground at Washington Dulles Airport. “I’m also grateful to the U.S. government and the friends who helped us the whole time. We would not have been able to arrive safely in the United States without their help.” 

“Thank you to all parties in the United States, including members of Congress, for your cooperation. Thank you to the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security for especially granting humanitarian status for this family,” Rev. Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid Association, expressed. This status allows the entry of those who are on Humanitarian or Significant Public Benefit Parole, for example, witnesses who will be testifying in criminal or legal proceedings. 

This is the first case of an ethnic Kyrgyz Christian refugee family to be admitted to the United States from Xinjiang. ChinaAid has been assisting Joseph and his family resettle in America. 

In February 2018, the Chinese authorities detained Joseph in front of his wife and child without just cause and due process. Turdakun was subsequently imprisoned in the notorious internment camps for 10 months. He and his 23 fellow inmates were subjected to unspeakable torture and forced drug injections. All of which significantly impaired and damaged many of his major bodily functions.

Comprehensive sources quoted Turdakun’s recollection that he was detained without a fair trial in a well-lit room with cameras and spotlights on him. In those chairs, he was restrained and interrogated. 

Joseph was strapped to a “tiger chair” which places a person in a highly uncomfortable position. The “tiger chair” is the most popular form of torture in Chinese prisons. This steel chair buckles around the waist, arms, and legs and is placed in a padded, soundproofed room with a thick door. Turdakun sat in the chair three times—for at least a day each time.

The experience of dehydration and starvation is distressing to any human. During the interrogation, he was repeatedly asked about his religion and marriage to his Kyrgyzstan-born wife.

For ten months, Turdakun and his 23 cellmates were squeezed into the same cell without windows but with harsh lighting. Under the orders of the corrections officers, they had to sing songs praising the Chinese Communist Party to get breakfast. Turdakun said that although they were squeezed into the same cell, Turdakun and his fellow inmates were not allowed to talk to each other; under constant surveillance by a network of cameras, they would watch TV footage of how China grew and developed all day long.

He revealed that if they talk or do anything they should not, a voice through the loudspeaker will tell them to stop, and they would all endure corporal punishment. Turdakun had to stand tiptoed, squat down, and put his hands on his head. He said he would be beaten if he tipped over. Turdakun noted that the movements were challenging to do at first, but they suffered these kinds of beatings often. Everyone got used to it. 

Until today, Joseph still does not know what drugs the doctors at the Xinjiang detention center prescribed him in 2018. He and his twenty-three inmates were told it was a vaccine to prevent colds. Turdakun recalled that after the injection, he and his inmates felt pain in their ears, hands, and feet; yellow fluid came out of their ears; some had difficulties walking. When he was released after 10 months in detention, he still had difficulties when it came to walking.

During Turdakun’s 10 months in detention, his wife visited local officials every day, pleading for her husband’s release. Zhyldyz said their son suffered severe knee pain and was diagnosed with arthritis. As a foreign citizen, she is not permitted to work in China, which made it difficult for her to support her family. 

Turdakun was released in December 2018 and later placed under house arrest. He was forced to work without pay and unable to leave his home except for some permitted activities such as picking up his son from school. He revealed that for an entire year, facial-recognition cameras were monitoring him everywhere.

Fearing that he would be detained again, Turdakun, his wife, and their 11-year-old son fled to Kyrgyzstan in 2019. There, he was repeatedly contacted by Chinese authorities actively seeking to repatriate them to Xinjiang, and his bank account was frozen. Two years later, Kyrgyz officials refused to renew his visa two years later, putting him and his family at risk of deportation to China.

Turdakun contacted Ethan Gutmann, a Uyghur expert and advocate based in Washington, D.C. who is also a senior research fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Along with Rev. Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, they “developed a plan to get the family out of the country.” 

Ultimately, “the group decided on a plan; to fly family members to Turkey as tourists, where they will wait for the State Department to make a decision,” Gutmann recalled. There will also be some Americans along with Canadians and their families to accompany them to increase their chances of passing through customs and reducing their chances of being stopped.

The strategic and careful planning came into fruition. On January 9, the State Department granted the family special authorization to enter the United States, and on April 1, the Department of Homeland Security signed off on their arrival. Now that their family is in the free land of America, they will be free to go to church and worship God.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg of an ongoing genocide, ethnic cleansing, and religious persecution,” Rev. Bob Fu commented.  

In an interview with The Guardian, Turdakun expressed relief at arriving in the United States. “We were waiting over a hundred days,” Turdakun said through a translator. “So, it’s a great feeling to be in America.” 

Turdakun is one of nearly two million people estimated to be held in mass internment camps in China’s Xinjiang region. Unlike many of the detainees, most of whom are Uyghurs and Muslims, and of course many ethnic Kazakhs, Turdakun is ethnically Kyrgyz and Christian, and his case has raised further concerns that China might target anyone of any different ethnicity and religion. 

China has repeatedly challenged all allegations of mistreatment of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, but the United States has ample evidence to substantiate and accuse Beijing of committing genocide in Xinjiang. The U.S. State Department released its 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on April 12, reiterating that the Chinese government has committed genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.

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