Qelbinur Sidik, a Chinese language teacher in the internment camps in Xinjiang, has told how at 50, she was forced into a sterilisation operation under a government campaign to suppress birth rates of women from Muslim minorities in China.
Sidik was 47 in 2017 when local officials insisted she must have an IUD inserted to prevent the unlikely prospect of another pregnancy. Just over two years later, at 50, she was forced to undergo sterilisation.
Sidik said the crackdown swept up not just women likely to fall pregnant, but those well beyond normal childbearing ages. Messages she got from local authorities said women aged 19 to 59 were expected to have intrauterine devices (IUDs) fitted or undergo sterilisation.
When the first order came, the Chinese language teacher was already giving classes at one of the now notorious internment camps appearing across China’s western Xinjiang region.
She knew what happened to people from Muslim minorities who resisted the government, and an Uyghur-language text message that she shared with the Guardian, which she said came from local authorities, made the threat explicit.
“If anything happens, who will take responsibility for you? Do not gamble with your life, don’t even try. These things are not just about you. You have to think about your family members and your relatives around you,” the message said.
“If you fight with us at your door and refuse to collaborate with us, you will go to the police station and sit on the metal chair!”
On the day of her appointment there was no Han Chinese among crowds of women waiting for their compulsory birth control at the government compound, she said.
Details of China’s sweeping campaign of repression against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang have leaked out slowly from the tightly controlled region, but there is increasing evidence of efforts to slash birth rates, which some experts have called “demographic genocide”.
This has included forced birth control and sterilisation, fines and even prison sentences for those considered to have too many children, a recent Associated Press investigation found.
In the mostly Uyghur regions of Hotan and Kashgar, births collapsed by more than 60% between 2015 and 2018, the last year for which government data was available, the AP found. Nationwide over the same period, births fell only 4.2%.
The IUD forced upon Sidik caused heavy bleeding, and she paid to have it removed illegally. But later in 2018 a routine check found it was missing and she was forced to have a second device installed, and then a year later forced to undergo sterilisation.
“In 2017, just because I was an official worker in a school, they gave me a wider choice to have this IUD or sterilisation operation. But in 2019 they said there is an order from the government that every woman from 18 years to 59 years old has to be sterilised. So they said you have to do this now.”
She tried to plead both age and the damaging impact of the IUDs on her health. “I saidmy body cannot take it, but they told me ‘you don’t want children, so you have no excuse not to have the sterilisation operation.’”
Her story, first told to the Dutch Uyghur Human Rights Foundation, is difficult to verify. It is hard to take photos inside detention facilities and there is little documentation. But details match accounts by other camp detainees and research into coercive birth control practices.
She previously gave anonymous accounts of her experience in the camps and with IUDs, but had not spoken about her sterilisation.
Sidik came from a family that would once have been considered a model of assimilation by local authorities, speaking fluent Chinese, working at a government school and following government exhortations to have only one child.
She initially dismissed reports of forced sterilisations and mass detentions from other parts of Xinjiang as something that happened to troubled communities. “We felt compassion, but it was some faraway story, not something that will happen to us.”
She left China in late 2019 and expects to never return. Her husband, an Uyghur, applied for a permit to travel with her. Authorities told him: “Don’t even dream about it.” (Source: The Guardian)