By Tasmin Nazeer

LONDON - Gulzara Muhammed is an ethnic Uyghur exile originally from Xinjiang and now living in Turkey with two children. She came from a devout Muslim family, with her husband being the Imam of their local mosque in China. Gulzara recalls how early expressions of Islamophobia by Chinese authorities turned into more sinister practices against her family.

“My family were under surveillance by Chinese authorities just because my husband was an Imam and my father who lives with us had begun teaching the Quran to Uyghur children. We would get constant disturbances by Chinese police asking about our activities which intensified over a period of months, even though we were simply following our faith,” she tells The New Arab.

In 2018 Gulzara’s husband was arrested along with her elderly father under the guise of “inciting and spreading hatred”. Copies of the Quran were confiscated from her home and her residence was turned upside down as police ‘aggressively hit and forcibly handcuffed’ her loved ones.

“I pleaded with the police to let them go and said they have not done anything wrong. One officer spat at my face and threatened that I would be arrested too. They told me that we should not read this and they showed me a copy of an Islamic book I had. I was terrified but they did not care about our cries, they treated us worse than animals.”

Gulzara turned to her brother for help as he had connections with a Hans Chinese teacher who managed to bribe a police officer to release her family members. The trauma was too much to bear for Gulzara’s elderly father who passed away just one day after being released.

“It was then that I told my husband that we have to leave and that it would be unsafe for us to stay in the country. We decided to go to Turkey but I had to get a medical check-up from the family planning workers and do other checks before going.”

In predominant Uyghur areas in Xinjiang, family planning workers are designated to residential areas to oversee the number of children in each family and call them for check-ups almost every three months.

“I was told by the family planning worker that I needed to undergo a medical check-up in the hospital. When I asked why they said for me not to ask too many questions and this was part of the law. I said I did not want this (contraception) as it's against my religion and that I am being careful. I told her that I am not pregnant but she insisted I still go to the hospital.”

Gulzara was later told by a nurse that she had a ‘cyst’ that needed to be removed and that they needed to operate urgently as her ‘life was at risk’.

“I told them I do not have any symptoms of a cyst and suspected something was wrong. I remember being given an injection and I became unconscious. When I woke up I was in pain and was told that the procedure is done but now I will not be able to have any more children.”

Gulzara was horrified as questions swirled in her mind as to what had just happened to her.

“They lied to me. They tricked me. They have sterilised me without my consent and one day I hope they (the Chinese government) will own up to their misdeeds as it is them who orders hospitals to do this. They are trying to stop the Uyghur population from growing and this is the only way they can do it – by targeting us, Uyghur women.”

‘Ayshe’, is a mother of four children from Kashgar, who asked to conceal her identity due to safety concerns.

“I fled China many years ago with my husband and children when things started to get worse for us (Uyghurs). At the time I only had two children but was pregnant with my third child when I left the country.”

After authorities found out that Ayshe had escaped from Xinjiang they targeted her family members and put them into internment camps under false allegations.

“My whole family, my mother, father and sister were all put into internment camps. I got a call from a relative telling me to come back but I could not as it was just not safe. I got the message that my sister was being tortured and that they (the Chinese authorities) had forced her to be sterilised.”

Ayshe cries uncontrollably as she tells The New Arab the horror of recalling the experience of being told by a former inmate of what her sister had to endure.

“She was chained by her two hands and they told her that they would sterilise her by force if she did not comply. She tried to resist and told them she only has one child and she doesn’t even know where he is now after she was taken to the camp. They taunted her that this was her punishment for being born Uyghur and now she will have no children.”

Ayshe has not heard from any of her family members since seeking exile abroad and is fearful that the Chinese government are still after her should they find out her location. She wants justice for the "torture and heartache" she says she has undergone due to the Chinese Communist Party’s policies against the Uyghur ethnic minority.

Mai Abdulhamit, 50, is an Uyghur mother of three living in Turkey. She tells The New Arab that Uyghur women in Xinjiang fear that they will be "deliberately targeted" in a bid to cut births and further erase their population.

“They want us to be extinct, that is their (Chinese Communist Party) plan.”

Mai was living in Xinjiang when she found out that she was expecting her third baby. She hid her pregnancy by staying in the confinement of her room so that she would not be targeted by family planning workers.

“I tried my best to hide my pregnancy as I knew that the Chinese government were intentionally targeting us and I was scared that I would be forced to abort the child or worse be fitted with IUD which I heard they do very aggressively to Uyghur women.”

As months passed by and her pregnancy became more difficult to hide, she tried to move to another town but without the hakou – a residential paper – she was forced to move back. It was then that the family planning worker found out she was pregnant.

“I was so scared, I was trembling and shaking. We told the family planning worker that we would do anything, we would pay money to her but please don’t inform her boss that I am pregnant. I cried so much that my eyes were bloodshot that day.”

Mai says that the family planning worker asked her husband to pay an extortionate amount and advised them to leave the country as soon as possible. She managed to conceal her pregnancy while leaving the country but she fears for the family she has left behind in Xinjiang.

“We don’t know what has happened to our remaining family members. We cannot get through to them at all since we left," she reveals.

"I pray that they are still alive. All I know is that many Uyghurs and mothers like me have suffered. They do not want Uyghurs to have children and they do not want Islam to spread in the country. It’s a very sad situation but I hope the presidents of the world will do more for us.”

Tasnim Nazeer is an award-winning journalist, author, and Universal Peace Federation Ambassador.