Why were people tortured?
“They would punish inmates for everything. Anyone who didn’t follow the rules was punished. Those who didn’t learn Chinese properly or who didn’t sing the songs were also punished.”
And everyday things like these were punished with torture?
“I will give you an example. There was an old woman in the camp who had been a shepherd before she was arrested. She was taken to the camp because she was accused of speaking with someone from abroad by phone. This was a woman who not only did not have a phone, she didn’t even know how to use one. On the page of sins the inmates were forced to fill out, she wrote that the call she had been accused of making never took place. In response she was immediately punished. I saw her when she returned. She was covered with blood, she had no fingernails and her skin was flayed.”
On one occasion, Sauytbay herself was punished. “One night, about 70 new prisoners were brought to the camp,” she recalls. “One of them was an elderly Kazakh woman who hadn’t even had time to take her shoes. She spotted me as being Kazakh and asked for my help. She begged me to get her out of there and she embraced me. I did not reciprocate her embrace, but I was punished anyway. I was beaten and deprived of food for two days.”
Sauytbay says she witnessed medical procedures being carried out on inmates with no justification. She thinks it was done as part of human experiments that were carried out in the camp systematically. “The inmates would be given pills or injections. They were told it was to prevent diseases, but the nurses told me secretly that the pills were dangerous and that I should not take them.”
Tears stream down Sauytbay’s face when she tells the grimmest story from her time in the camp. “One day, the police told us they were going to check to see whether our reeducation was succeeding, whether we were developing properly. They took 200 inmates outside, men and women, and told one of the women to confess her sins. She stood before us and declared that she had been a bad person, but now that she had learned Chinese she had become a better person. When she was done speaking, the policemen ordered her to disrobe and simply raped her one after the other, in front of everyone. While they were raping her they checked to see how we were reacting. People who turned their head or closed their eyes, and those who looked angry or shocked, were taken away and we never saw them again. It was awful. I will never forget the feeling of helplessness, of not being able to help her. After that happened, it was hard for me to sleep at night.”