It has been more than two years since Sayragul Sautbay was released from a re-education camp in China’s westernmost region of Xinjiang. Yet the mother of two still suffers from nightmares and flashbacks from the “humiliation and violence” she endured while she was detained.
Sautbay, a medical doctor and educator who now lives in Sweden, recently published a book in which she detailed her ordeal, including witnessing beatings, alleged sexual abuse and forced sterilisation.
In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, she shed more light on other indignities to which the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities were subjected, including the consumption of pork, a meat that is strictly prohibited in Islam.
“Every Friday, we were forced to eat pork meat,” Sautbay said. “They have intentionally chosen a day that is holy for the Muslims. And if you reject it, you would get a harsh punishment.”
She added that the policy was designed to inflict shame and guilt on the Muslim detainees and that it was “difficult to explain in words” the emotions she had every time she ate the meat.
“I was feeling like I was a different person. All around me got dark. It was really difficult to accept,” she said.
Testimonies from Sautbay and others provide an indication of how China has sought to crack down in Xinjiang by taking aim at the cultural and religious beliefs of the mostly Muslim ethnic minority, implementing widespread surveillance and – from about 2017 – opening a network of camps it has justified as necessary to counter “extremism”.
But documents made available to Al Jazeera show that agricultural development has also become part of what German anthropologist and Uighur scholar, Adrian Zenz, says is a policy of “secularisation”.
According to Zenz, the documents and state-approved news articles support talk within Uighur communities that there is an “active” effort to promote and expand pig farming in the region.
In November 2019, Xinjiang’s top administrator, Shohrat Zakir, that the autonomous region would be turned into a “pig-raising hub”; a move that Uighurs say is an affront to their way of life.
One news article published in May that Zenz recorded describes a new farm in the southern Kashgar area, which aims to produce 40,000 pigs every year.
The project is expected to occupy a 25,000-square-metre (82-square-foot) area in an industrial park in Kashgar’s Konaxahar county, renamed Shufu, according to the Chinese-language website, Sina.