Immigration

Manga depicting Uighur woman's survival after torture goes viral

The torture experienced by a 29-year-old Uighur woman who was detained three times has been told in a manga story. Source: Tomomi Shimizu/US Congress

Readers say the manga story has given them a greater understanding of the plight faced by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

A Japanese manga comic of one Uighur woman's story in detention has been viewed around 2.5 million times.

Entitled "What has happened to me", the story's popularity comes amid the release of two tranches of leaked documents, revealing the inner workings of the Chinese government-run camps in Xinjiang.

About a million people - mostly Muslim Uighurs - are thought to have been detained in the camps without trial.

The Japanese version of the manga comic was launched in April and has since been translated into different languages, including English, Chinese and Uighur.

The story of 29-year-old former detainee Mihrigul Tursun has also been distributed and read in Hong Kong, which has been wracked by months of protests.

The creator of the manga comic, Tomomi Shimizu, says she has received feedback from readers who say they "finally understand why Hong Kong People stand up".

"Today's Xinjiang, Hong Kong tomorrow," they tell her.

The comic book illustrator also says she has fielded requests for the comic book to be taught in schools; and been asked to tackle the Hong Kong protests in her next work.

Ms Tursun was detained three times between 2015 and 2017 after travelling to China from Egypt. Her two-month-old triplets were seized by authorities and she was interrogated and then imprisoned.

"I had no idea what I have done wrong. Of course, I didn't commit any crime," she says in the comic story.

The manga comic depicts the moment when Mihrigul Tursun was separated from her children.
The manga comic depicts the moment when Mihrigul Tursun was separated from her children.
Tomomi Shimizu

The eldest of her triplets died in hospital during her detention - the exact circumstances of which remain unknown.

The harrowing details of the torture she says she was subjected to were revealed before US congress last year.

"In January 2018, I was detained for the third time for no reason. The authorities handcuffed me on my wrists and ankles, put a black sack over my head, and took me to a hospital. I was stripped naked and put under a big computerised machine."

The human rights abuses she alleges includes sleep deprivation in a cell that was lit around the clock, use of an electric chair and witnessing the death of cellmates.

"After all the torture and suffering I went through, I never thought I would come out of the cell 210 alive," she told congress.

The conditions Mihrigul Tursun experienced during detention have been documented by Tomomi Shimizu in a manga comic.
The conditions Mihrigul Tursun experienced during detention have been documented by Tomomi Shimizu in a manga comic.
Tomomi Shimizu

Fifty-year-old Tomomi Shimizu says it is the first time she has tackled a social issue in her work.

She was motivated to start the manga story after learning of the plight of Uighurs through media reports in 2018.

Ms Shimizu said she felt particularly compelled to take up the story because of the silence around the issue in Japan. "No one says the name of the country," she wrote in April.

After speaking to Uighurs in Japan, she learned of Tursun's story which formed the inspiration for the manga comic which has seen been translated into multiple languages.

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"Despite (China) being a neighbouring country, it is full of things that are unknown. Telling people about them through manga is my mission," said Shimizu, who had previously rarely tackled social problems in her works. The artist states that she plans to release a collection of Uyghur testimonies in the future.

Ms Shimizu said she plans on releasing a collection of stories based on real-life Uighur accounts in the future.

The comic book documents Ms Tursun's loss of communication with her husband, whom she believes came looking for her in China but who ended up being sentenced to 16 years in jail.

She lives in the US with her surviving children.

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Earlier this month, the New York Times published internal government documents revealing directives from Chinese President Xi Jinping to Xinjiang officials on the policy.

In private speeches, Mr Xi called for an all-out "struggle against terrorism, infiltration and separatism", saying authorities should show "absolutely no mercy".

The so-called China Cables have been published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), working with 17 media partners.

Those files reveal the camps were to be run not as "re-education camps" or "job training centres" but as a mass brainwashing scheme.

A nine-page memo sent out in 2017 the official tasked with running the camps outlines a behaviour-modification “points” system to mete out punishments and rewards to inmates.

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