VOC Helps Key Xinjiang Concentration Camp Survivor Escape to Give First Person Witness Testimony
On Wednesday, April 13, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) and IPVM, a video security and surveillance research group, hosted a press conference with a Xinjiang concentration camp survivor, Ovalbek Turdakun, and his family, who are Christians originally from Kyrgyzstan and who safely arrived in the United States on April 8. Turdakun is the first Christian and first ethnic Kyrgyz to survive China’s concentration camps.
Since 2014, Xi Jinping’s Chinese government has carried out systematic genocide against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic Muslim Populations in China. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has resolved to shatter and “remake” the indigenous peoples in Xinjiang using a variety of draconian measures. The regime suppresses and terrorizes local cultures by disappearing those who speak against the government, subjecting children to indoctrination in boarding schools, outlawing religious practices, and closing or re-purposing houses of worship. Beijing continues to reduce the population of indigenous peoples in their own homeland by subjecting women to forced abortions and sterilizations. Others are removed from their homes and sent far away to work in forced labor camps.
In 2018, Chinese authorities seized Ovalbek Turdakun in front of his wife and child with no just cause or due process. Turdakun was then imprisoned by the CCP for 10 months in a Xinjiang labor camp where he was subjected to unspeakable gross human rights violations, including torture and forced medical procedures which had debilitating effects on his major motor functions. Turdakun also witnessed the use of technology from Chinese companies such as Hikvision within the concentration camp. After his unexpected release, Turdakun fled with his wife and 11-year-old son to Kyrgyzstan, where CCP officials actively sought their return to Xinjiang.
At the press conference, Turdakun provided in precise and vivid detail the mental, physical, and emotional torture to which he was subjected while imprisoned in a Chinese Communist government-run concentration camp in Xinjiang. He detailed how cameras everywhere tracked the detainees’ every move. He also explained that he and his other 22 cell mates were given unidentified injections, herbal tea, and pills which caused painful and severe reactions. Turdakun experienced full-body rashes, nerve pain, eye aches, and serious vision problems. While the guards portrayed drinking the tea as a choice, Turdakun said detainees had no personal choices as they were under constant surveillance.
In addition to Turdakun’s testimony, the press conference featured remarks by those involved in a months-long effort that VOC led to help secure the family’s journey to safety in the United States, along with those allies leading efforts to hold the Chinese government accountable for its atrocities.
Speakers at the press conference included Ambassador Andrew Bremberg, VOC President and CEO, Ethan Gutmann, VOC China Studies Research Fellow, Congressman Chris Smith, Co-Chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Conor Healy, Government Director of IPVM, Bob Fu, Founder and President of the non-profit ChinaAid, and Rodney Dixon QC, a renowned British barrister leading the effort to try Beijing for its crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.
VOC’s Ambassador Andrew Bremberg opened the press conference by commending Turdakun for his “sheer bravery few possess” and also for his “sacrifice for the sake of delivering justice for his people.” Bremberg, noting that the tentacles of the CCP extend far beyond China’s borders and that witnesses like Turdakun and his family could be subject to intimidation by Chinese security services even while living in the US, thanked Turdakun for his courage to speak publicly about what he experienced in China’s concentration camps.
“Witnesses and their stories remind us that the atrocities being committed by communist regimes today and in the past are not just words on a page, but are real events that impact countless men, women, and children around the world. The testimony of witnesses has the power to change. And we hope after today governments, corporations, and citizens around the world change how they interact and view the genocidal regime of the CCP.”
—Ambassador Andrew Bremberg, VOC President and CEO
Congressman Chris Smith, Co-Chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, joined in applauding Turdakun for his bravery and for his observation and reporting of the most minute details while inside the camps. “I am in awe. I know every one of us here are inspired by your courage, by your faith, by your commitment to human rights, and by your very powerful, and very keen powers of observation,” said Congressman Smith. He explained that documented information is required to bring any successful legal action, so Turdakun’s inside look at the camps in Xinjiang is vital.
“We can’t take our focus off what is happening every single day in the concentration camps in Xinjiang.”
— Congressman Chris Smith, CECC Co-Chairman
VOC China Studies Fellow, Ethan Gutmann, shared how he first became connected with Turdakun and his family in February 2020 upon hearing about them from the Uyghur Christian network in Central Asia. Gutmann, eager to interview any Xinjiang camp refugee he could find, was amazed at Turdakun’s background as he “was a series of demographic firsts. He’s Kyrgyz ethnicity, Christian, crossed the Kyrgyz border with his family intact.” Gutmann also explained how rare Turdakun’s precision is—he memorized very specific details of the camp where he was detained, including the placement and make of every security camera and the measurement of rooms—which is vital intelligence information since there are no scribes allowed in the camps.
Conor Healy, Government Director of IVPM, a video security and surveillance research group, shared that Turdakun’s observation of the brand of security cameras present in the camps—Hikvision—provides an enormous amount of evidence to the company’s direct ties to and participation in the genocide in Xinjiang.