WASHINGTON (BP) – A Christian who was imprisoned for 10 months in western China is now in the United States as a witness to the notorious “re-education” camps run by the communist regime in the world’s most populous country .
Ovalbek Turdakun, his wife and son arrived in the United States on April 8 after a long and successful effort to avoid deportation to China that was aided by allies in the United States and other countries. Ovalbek is the first Christian to speak out about his detention in camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, according to Axios, a news site that first reported on his arrival on April 12.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has primarily targeted Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim group in Xinjiang, in a genocidal campaign, but other ethnic groups have also been included in its crackdown. The CCP’s tactics have included widespread detention in “re-education” camps, forced labor, and a coercive population control program of abortion and sterilization. The State Department under Presidents Trump and Biden has determined that China is guilty of genocide in Xinjiang.
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Messengers to the 2021 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention resoundingly passed a resolution condemning the CCP’s oppression of Uighurs and calling on the U.S. government to take “concrete action” to end the genocide. The SBC has reportedly become the first Christian faith group to denounce China’s campaign against the Uyghurs as genocide.
At a press conference in Washington, DC on Wednesday (April 13), Ovalbek described a 10-month detention by the Chinese government that included torture and forced injections. He was placed under house arrest for another eight months after his release from the camp in December 2018. An ethnic Kyrgyz, Ovalbek and his family crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan in December 2019 and eventually received assistance to reach the States -United.
“I thank God for bringing me and my family safely here,” Turdakun said at the press conference through an interpreter. “I thank the US government.” He also thanked two members of the audience who helped bring his family to this country.
Chelsea Sobolik, director of public policy for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said: “The Chinese Communist Party has continued to wage a heinous and systematic war against Christians, Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities and nuns. Mr. Ovalbek, the first detained Christian who was able to flee Xinjiang and speak publicly about his experience, bravely brings to light the genocide committed by the CCP.
“Christians around the world must continue to speak out in the face of this atrocity, and the ERLC will continue to stand up for religious freedom for all in China,” she told The Baptist Press in written comments.
Speakers at the press conference said they expect Ovalbek’s testimony to be invaluable in US and international efforts to hold the CCP accountable.
Rep. Chris Smith, RN.J., told Ovalbek at the press conference, “We are inspired … by your courage, by your faith, by your commitment to human rights, and by your powers to very powerful and very sharp observation.
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“[Y]our information, your leadership is essential,” Smith told him. With the focus now on Russia’s assault on Ukraine, “we cannot divert our attention from what is happening every day in the concentration camps of Xinjiang.”
Rodney Dixon, a British lawyer specializing in international law, told the press conference audience that Ovalbek “is going to be vital in providing more insider, first-hand information about what is happening in China and in the countries neighbors”.
Dixon’s legal team has urged the International Criminal Court to investigate Tajikistan, which borders Xinjiang, over the disappearance of Uyghurs, apparently back in China. A report will soon be submitted calling for an investigation and prosecution against China, he said.