Entry of 5393       

Sairagul Sauytbai

Chinese ID: 65402619????????E? (Mongghulkure)

Age: 35-55    Detention reason: other    Detention type: released
Gender: F    Detention time: Oct. 2017 - Dec. 2017    Health status: unclear
Ethnicity: Kazakh    Profession: government    Location: outside China

List(s): Eyewitness accounts, Exemplary first-person testimonies, Forced labor cases, Covered in international media

See raw/original

Testifying party

Gene A. Bunin

Victim's relation to testifier

I attended her trial. We also talked briefly once, post-trial.

About the victim

Sairagul Sauytbai, 41 (as of August 2018), an ethnic Kazakh woman from Aksu Township (officially called Chahanwusu Mongol Township, 察汗乌苏蒙古族乡) in Zhaosu (Mongolkure) County in Xinjiang's Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture. She is married to Uali Islam, with whom she has a son and a daughter, the latter three all having immigrated to Kazakhstan in 2016 and received citizenship, with only Sairagul staying behind in Xinjiang.

A CPC member, she worked as a kindergarten director from 2016 on, prior to being drafted to serve as a teacher in a "re-education camp" in late 2017. According to an Apple Daily report, she was at some point released from her teaching duties and assigned to live in a Han family’s home for 8 days, bribing the Han man so that he would officially report her presence while she lived elsewhere. The Apple Daily also reports that she was later accused of harboring “incorrect thoughts”, which was tantamount to a sentence in re-education camp, and this prompted her to flee China in April 2018.

Leaving behind property and buying fake documents to get out of China through the Korgas boundary-cooperation zone, she was allegedly able to take advantage of the chaos on the Kazakh side to slip past the Kazakh customs and to illegally enter Kazakhstan. She went unbothered for a month, prior to being arrested by Kazakh security services on May 21, 2018.

After some time in detention, she was put on trial for illegally crossing the border - a trial that would consist of four sessions, held on July 9, July 14, July 23, and August 1. The case drew international attention given her "ex-camp instructor" identity and as many believed Sairagul's fate and life to be on the line, with a negative verdict potentially resulting in her being deported back to China. The resonance of the case increased when she announced, during the second session, that she had worked in a so-called "re-education camp", that it was actually just "a prison in the mountains", that there were 2500 Kazakhs in that camp alone, and that she knew of two others like it. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time that the existence of the camps and their nature were testified to in a court of law. On August 1, 2018, she was given a positive verdict - a 6-month suspended sentence - allowing her to be reunited with her family and to stay in Kazakhstan.

Within a day, she received news that her relatives in Xinjiang were detained. Another day or two later, she was effectively "quarantined" by her lawyer Abzal Kuspan, with the help of media assistant Saule Abedinova, who publicly stated that Sairagul should not talk publicly about the camps or see anyone (outside her immediate family), as these actions could result in her hasty deportation to China - since she was applying for asylum status and was at risk until she got it. This "quarantine" ended partially a month later, as Sairagul was able to appear in public again (it was during this time that I met her while she and local activists from the rights group Atajurt were in front of the German consulate inquiring about her possibilities of asylum abroad). However, to the present day she has been unable to talk in detail about the camps, citing threats and pressure.

In applying for asylum status, she has been refused the status twice, prompting her to part ways with both Kuspan and Abedinova (accusing the latter of blocking access both to Kuspan and to media), to hire Aiman Umarova as her lawyer, and to sue the asylum committee for refusing her the status. This second trial started in February 2019 and would go on until late May, being pushed back several times with Sairagul ultimately not being issued asylum status. On June 3, 2019, her lawyer announced that Sairagul had left the country early that morning, flying to Sweden with her husband and two children after the country accepted to take them.

Victim's location

She and her family are now in Sweden.

When victim was detained

It is difficult to define detention in this case, but it may be said that she was "detained" in late 2017, when she was forced to leave her position at the kindergarten and to go instruct at the camp.

Probable (or official) reason for detention

I believe that she stated that she was obliged to go teach at the camp as her position at the kindergarten was a government job and necessitated her complying with the transfer.

Victim's status

She has been allowed to leave Kazakhstan and is now in Sweden.

How did the testifier learn about the victim's status?

I've been following her case closely, attending her trial, talking to local activists, and reading about it in the media.

Additional information

Her case has seen widespread media coverage. I give links to the more prominent articles here:


In her interviews to foreign media after leaving Kazakhstan, she talks of daily torture (missing teeth and nails) undergone by the inmates at her camp.

Supplementary materials

summary of second session (first trial)
Uali Islam's interview at Atajurt
second session of second trial
report on second session (first trial)
Sairagul on S. Abedinova
S. Abedinova on "quarantining" Sairagul
departure from Kazakhstan
Sairagul being freed (RFE)
in defendant's box (first trial) (AFP)
Washington Post print coverage
at second trial (RFE)
in Esik (Globe and Mail)
childhood photo (W. Post)
at home in Sweden

Entry created: 2019-04-05

Last updated: 2019-04-05

Latest update from testifier: 2019-09-30