A Letter from A Prison Guard in the Newly Built Concentration Camp in Dawanching
The original letter (in Chinese) was posted online by Erkin Azat on May 12, 2019 (link). The letter has been translated into English by the Torchlight Uyghur Group.
My name is Berik, I am a prison guard in the newly built concentration camp located in Dawanching (Dabancheng in Chinese). I was a cameraman before, filming wedding ceremonies but my business started going down after 2016. Applying for a police associate position became popular starting from 2017 and my mother also encouraged me to apply as advertised salary sounded reasonable. Soon after becoming a police associate I regretted choosing this position. There were no holidays and our salaries were subjected to cut frequently. Sometimes the salaries were delayed for several months. Working under a 24-hour highly stressful environment brought me a number of health problems like sleep disorder.
During the 2nd half of 2018, I was transferred to the newly built concentration camp in Dawanching and I was assigned to work in the security camera control room since I had some previous experiences with cameras. I was responsible for night shift. Despite working in the control room there were numbers of security cameras monitoring our every single action. We were “not allowed to leave the position anytime, not allowed to sleep, and not allowed to move”. We had to concentrate on screens and monitor every single situation. If we had any mistake because of our carelessness we would be punished. A light punishment would be deduction of one-month salary and heavier punishment would be to get “reeducated together”. So, we always felt like we were in prisons cells not in the control room.
The following is the daily routine for the prisoners:
5:00 Getting up and morning run in the field
8:00 – 12:00 Chinese education class, Political study, Law study
12:00 – 14:00 Lunch time and break
14:00 – 18:00 Continuing study
20:00 – 22:00 Self study
23:00 Clean up the dormitory and go to bed
The security cameras could not cover every single corner and there could be blind spots. We gave warning about the blind spots to the prisoners and some prisoners would sneak into the blind spots to smoke. Cigarettes were smuggled into the camps and the prisoners would be severely punished if they were found smoking. At the beginning, the management of the concentration camp was very tight, but after a while people got used to it.
We have a “couple’s room” where prisoners and their spouses are allowed to meet on a regular basis to “do private things”. One day during the winter, a prisoner was locked into solitary for 24 hours after he met his wife in this room; he subsequently lost all his future privileges of meeting his wife again. Actually, surveillance camera in the couple’s room was recording everything: His wife was wearing two layers of woolen inner pants and she gave one to his husband to wear. The prisoner didn’t know the surveillance camera was recording and thought it was ok. Later my coworker responsible for the day shift received a bonus for finding out this “crime”.
One day, more than 3,000 high school girls, all of them are around the age of 18, were transferred to the Dawanching concentration camp, right after the camp’s expansion. One of the girls who was standing in the first row, quietly said to me: “Brother, you can do anything to my body, as long as you can rescue me from here”. I couldn’t look into her eyes at that time, and her words echo almost every day in my ears ever since.
Sometimes officers would visit our monitoring room to “inspect” our work. In fact, they are choosing “girls”. They would ask us to zoom the camera in on girls’ faces, and even would half-jokingly ask me to choose the most beautiful one for him, which I euphemistically rejected at the time. After selecting the girl, they would let the subordinate staff to bring the girl to the “office” for a “talk”. The “office” actually is employee’s kitchen. Because there is no camera there, and the “talk” generally is during the daytime, not at night, everyone knows what will happen to the girls. There are two tables in the kitchen, one table is for snacks and liquors, and the other one is for “doing things”. Most of the time, the officer would rape the selected girl alone. Sometimes, if he is high, he would let subordinates gang rape the girls after him. After they are done, the girl would be returned back to the cell. The girl wouldn’t say anything, but I could see her tears from the camera. In the cells, they are not allowed to cry, not allowed to express their emotions, and not allowed to talk. Because of those restrictions, they can’t vent their emotions, so their mood can be extremely dreadful.
Our canteen tableware is made of plastic to prevent self-harm, but once a prisoner broke down emotionally, and after smashing the tableware, he tried to cut his abdomen with a sharp corner, but failed, and was sent to a mental hospital.
One time, two guys were caught fighting inside the cell. They knew there was a blind spot in the cell, but their arms were caught by the camera. Later they were punished by forcefully sitting on “the tiger chair”, prevented from food for 48 hours, and even had to pee on the chair.
In the Dawanching camp, young and middle-aged prisoners receive an injection every month, while the elderly only takes a single injection when they enter the concentration camp. The camp authorities say that it is to prevent cold or flu.
As guards, we are also required to memorize legal and political doctrines and go through regular assessments. It will be very dangerous if our results are unsatisfactory.
One day, I had some guests at my house. Maybe because our voice was a bit loud, an old Han Chinese man who lives downstairs called the police and threatened to send us all into camp for “learning”. Fortunately, I was also a “policeman”, and the police officers arrived also knew me. As a result, we were able to persuade the old man and signed a letter of guarantee for him. If I were an ordinary person at that time, I would definitely have been sent to the concentration camp only for the reason of being “noisy.”