Kong Yuanfeng arrived on the Pacific island of Saipan, a commonwealth of the United States, last March after fleeing China. Kong had run afoul of the ruling Chinese Communist Party while working as a laborer in the southern province of Guangdong in September 2001, and was handed a 10-year prison term as part of a “strike hard” campaign. But less than a year later, Kong was transferred to a prison in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) run by the quasi-military Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, or “bingtuan.” On his release, Kong was asked to stay on in Xinjiang’s Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture “to aid economic construction.”
Kong, 37, served eight years and 10 months in prison in Xinjiang. After he got out, he got work on a construction project operating a mechanical digger. Last year, his team was sent to work in a women’s prison in Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture’s Kona Sheher (Shufu) county, near the city of Kashgar, where around 500 “terrorists” were incarcerated, the vast majority of them ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs. He spoke recently to RFA’s Mandarin Service about his experiences:
Around Aug. 16, 2018, I worked for a few days in a women’s prison in Kashgar. I reckon there must have been 400 or 500 women locked up in there. I saw them lining up every day at mealtimes. They were also sent to clean up the green areas outside the accommodation blocks, while others were rehearsing a performance, and others were building the stage.
In reform-through-labor camps in Xinjiang, inmates are guarded at all times by the People’s Armed Police when they are sent out to do work outside the prison. There are usually six guards for every 100 prisoners. They carry two kinds of flags: triangular red and triangular yellow. If any prisoner goes beyond one of the red flags, the armed police will open fire on them. If they do it by mistake, the armed police will point their guns in warning and all of the prisoners must squat down and put their hands on their heads while the guards shock them with cattle prods until they beg for mercy.
Anyone who doesn’t do as they’re told gets whipped with a length of hosepipe as thick as your big toe that has steel threads in it. At the very least you’ll get 10 strokes, sometimes as many as 200 strokes. If you disobey orders a second time, they put you on a concrete block with your arms and legs restrained and shock you with cattle prods. Then they pour cold water all over you.
There was a cemetery outside the walls of the [women’s] detention center in Kashgar, where they buried inmates. There was a shelter for homeless people nearby, and people who died of accidental causes were also buried in that graveyard.
I have been detained a number of times in Xinjiang. There is no internet there, or freedom of speech. It’s very easy for the police to find you. Every time I got out they made me go for study sessions at the local residential community. Every time the community party secretary would see me there again, he’d call me an old lag, and make me write a reflective essay, a letter of repentance and a letter of guarantee [of future good behavior]. I escaped because I was terrified of the Chinese Communist Party and the Xinjiang police. I’m hoping to get political asylum from the U.S. government.