Saturday, February 23, 2019 06:09:01 PM
Al Jazeera News, Istanbul, Turkey :
In April 2017, Tarim, a 48-year-old businessman from Urumqi, the capital of China's Muslim Xinjiang region, received a phone call from the police summoning him to their offices in Aksu prefecture, 900km to the southwest.
Tarim knew at once that he was in trouble and devised a getaway, keeping the details to himself. He had just a few hours to carry out his plan.
Two days earlier, he was in Aksu for an attempt to rescue his sister Zohra, who was sent to a "re-education camp", after travelling to Turkey with him and their mother in 2016.
With a payment of 20,000 Chinese yuan ($2,900), he convinced officials to allow him to visit his sister. He had originally intended to use the money to convince local officials to let her out, but he was told that was impossible.
What he saw inside his sister's camp convinced him it was time for him to leave Xinjiang.
Tarim's sister was detained with up to 3,000 others near a military base a few kilometres north of Xayar, a city in Aksu.
A five-metre-high fence with barbed wire kept the camp secure and out of public view. Outside, a sign reads: "No Communist, No China."
Tarim passed through two security gates to reach the main entrance, which was guarded by two uniformed men. About 30 metres from the entrance was another security checkpoint with about 25 soldiers and uniformed personnel standing next to armoured vehicles.
While waiting for his sister, Tarim said he saw a group of around 500 people squatting on the ground.
It seemed like they had just arrived, as they were changing from their regular street clothes, to the bright blue uniforms issued by the camp. All the men had clean-shaven heads.
It was past seven in the evening when Tarim arrived at the camp but the sun was still up, so he managed to recognise some of the faces among the crowd from his old neighbourhood in Aksu.
After about an hour, Tarim's 33-year-old sister, Zohra, was finally brought to the waiting area, where they had a chance to talk for a "very short" period.
He noticed that Zohra was not her usual self and said that she looked pale. Dark spots formed around her eyes, which welled with tears.