China: House Shines a Light on the ‘Darkness at the Center of the Universe’

As Congress bids to end global apathy on Beijing’s effort to erase an entire people, ‘it starts with hearing from the witnesses themselves,’ says Elie Wiesel’s son.

AP/Carolyn Kaster
Qelbinur Sidik, forced to teach Chinese in detention facilities for Uyghurs, testifies on March 23, 2023, on Capitol Hill. AP/Carolyn Kaster

The broadcast Thursday evening by the House Select Committee on China of its hearing on the Uyghur Genocide” is a bid to end global apathy on Beijing’s effort to erase an entire people. It featured testimony by survivors of the regime’s brutality, 

The desert homeland of 11.3 million Uyghurs is the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, but testimony to Congress by two women who escaped the camps, Gulbahar Haitwaji and Qelbinur Sidik, show the name to be Orwellian Newspeak for a place where even bodily autonomy is violated by the state.

Whether in the bathroom or sleeping on concrete, surveillance is constant, and even sunlight is denied. “There are four types of control methods,” Ms. Sidik said: Batons, helmets, gloves — all electric — and steel tiger chairs with leg irons and handcuffs to restrain prisoners in painful positions.


Ms. Haitwaji was chained to a bed for three weeks and starved down to about 100 pounds. Her tormenters, hoping to obscure the physical evidence of deprivation, fed her only when a daughter secured her release.

The police, Ms. Haitwaji said, “told me that whatever I have witnessed in the concentration camp, I should not talk about; if I do, they said they would retaliate against my family members back home.”

Ms. Sidik’s voice cracked and she wiped away tears as she recounted enduring forced sterilization and constant assaults in her kitchen by a minder sent to live with her. “Uyghur women face abuse, rape and humiliation by the Chinese officials,” she said, “at their own houses.”


Women, Ms. Sidik said, “face gang rape … the guards or police use the electric baton on their private parts to rape and torture them.” In the prison yard, she could hear “the horrible screaming” and saw one young woman die a gruesome, lingering death after being injected with sterilization solution.

Tiny cell openings mean prisoners must crawl out to attend “reeducation classes” where Ms. Haitwaji said they were forced “to sing red songs.” Prisoners had their heads shaved, were sent to work in “slave factories,” and were referred to by numbers not their names.

“There is a place where the absence of a free press creates a blanket of darkness under which these crimes occur,” the son of the Nobel Laureate and Auschwitz survivor, Elie Wiesel, Elisha Wiesel, told the Select Committee via video.


“My father swore on his Nobel Prize speech,” Mr. Wiesel said, “never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must, at that moment, become the center of the universe.”

Xinjiang, Mr. Wiesel told me, is now “the center of the universe.” I asked him how Americans can help focus the world’s attention on the Uyghurs so that “Never Again” isn’t reduced to a mere bumper sticker slogan on our watch.

“I think it starts with hearing from the witnesses themselves,” Mr. Wiesel said, recommending Ms. Haitiwaji’s book, “How I Survived a Chinese ‘Reeducation’ Camp: A Uyghur Woman’s Story,” adding, “Everyone can do something.”

“A student who learns about the issue can discuss it with their class,” Mr. Wiesel said, “or write a letter to their endowment board if they see companies in the university portfolio that groups like Athenai identify as problematic with regards to Uyghur persecution.”

Consumers can protest to companies that sell clothing or electronics made by slave labor or that use cotton picked at gunpoint, while urging their representatives to treat the genocide with the seriousness it deserves. 

“We live in a time where extreme voices on both the right and left side of the political spectrum urge isolation,” Mr. Wiesel said, “but even these voices listen to voters, especially one who can write articulately and persuade others to join them in the message.”

Ms. Haitwaji and Ms. Sidik’s message rang clear in the House Chamber on Thursday, spoken in the languages banned by the CCP. Communism may block out the sun in Xinjiang today, but each of us has the power to light a candle and help lift the darkness at the center of the universe tomorrow.

The New York Sun

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