A shocking depiction of one of the world’s most ruthless regimes—and the story of one woman’s fight to survive.
I will never forget the camp. I cannot forget the eyes of the prisoners, expecting me to do something for them. They are innocent. I have to tell their story, to tell about the darkness they are in. It is so easy to suffocate us with the demons of powerlessness, shame, and guilt. But we aren’t the ones who should feel ashamed.
Born in China’s north-western province, Sayragul Sauytbay trained as a doctor before being appointed a senior civil servant. But her life was upended when the Chinese authorities incarcerated her. Her crime: being Kazakh, one of the China’s ethnic minorities.
The north-western province borders the largest number of foreign nations and is the point in China that is the closest to Europe. In recent years it has become home to over 1,200 penal camps—modern-day gulags that are estimated to house three million members of the Kazakh and Uyghur minorities. Imprisoned solely due to their ethnicity, inmates are subjected to relentless punishment and torture, including being beaten, raped, and used as subjects for medical experiments. The camps represent the greatest systematic incarceration of an entire people since the Third Reich.
In prison, Sauytbay was put to work teaching Chinese language, culture, and politics, in the course of which she gained access to secret information that revealed Beijing’s long-term plans to undermine not only its minorities, but democracies around the world. Upon her escape to Europe she was reunited with her family, but still lives under constant threat of reprisal. This rare testimony from the biggest surveillance state in the world reveals not only the full, frightening scope of China’s tyrannical ambitions, but also the resilience and courage of its author.
Ghosts of the Past
Despite Chinese Invasion and Destruction: dreaming of a golden future and financial security
Mouths Taped Shut
Worse Than a Mental Hospital: the world’s biggest surveillance state
Total Control: interrogations and rape
The Camp: surviving in hell
Better to Die Escaping Than Die in the Camp
Kazakhstan: Beijing’s interference in neighboring countries
Viral: warning the world
by Alexandra Cavelius
“The Chief Witness is a deeply disturbing insight into the dark heart of the Chinese Communist Party and its reign of terror in Xinjiang. It will rank historically along with the great literary exposés of the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet gulag. If you thought another Holocaust could never happen, pick up this book. Told with an aching honesty, Sayragul Sautbay’s account of her experience in China’s concentration camps in Xinjiang wounds the soul.”
—Clive Hamilton, author of Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World
“Sauytbay, a member of the Muslim Kazakh ethnic minority in China’s Xinjiang province, details her oppression by Chinese authorities in this harrowing account… Sauytbay chronicles the loss of homes, herding grounds, and holy places, as well as constant surveillance, forced relocation, and internment in “reeducation” camps… She describes how Muslim detainees were force-fed pork, beaten for speaking their native languages, and subjected to medical experiments, and alleges that some were even “disappeared” for organ harvesting… Full of disturbing evidence and visceral outrage at the failures of Western governments and corporations to hold China to account, this is a searing portrait of a still-unfolding tragedy.”