Filmmaker: Bill Stout
The Uyghur population in China is one of the most persecuted minorities in the country.
Living in the poorest part of China’s deprived Xingjian province, the Uyghurs call their home East Turkestan, a Muslim region of Central Asia that has enjoyed only brief periods of independence.
After Mao Tse Tung took power in 1949, their independence was gone. The Uyghurs say that they, and their culture, have been suppressed ever since. They have continued to struggle to maintain their ethnic and cultural identity.
Following the September 11 attacks in the US in 2001, China saw an opportunity to deal with what it saw as its East Turkistan problem.
Under the guise of fighting “international terrorism”, the Chinese government moved swiftly to legitimise its oppression of the Muslim Uyghurs.
With the US fighting its so-called “war on terror”, the Chinese leaders felt the time was right for their own push against the Uyghurs.
In 2001, Ayub Mohamed and several other Uyghurs decided to flee the oppression and start a new life in the West. They travelled along the old Silk Road, the traditional trading route. It led them across the Pamir Mountains into Afghanistan on the eve of the US invasion of Afghanistan.
Their timing could not have been worse. Ayub and his travelling companions were picked up and arrested as enemy combatants.
They eventually found themselves in the US-run prison of Guantanamo Bay. Ayub Mohamed says he experienced regular torture by an American interrogator while he was held in the notorious detention camp.
After being held in captivity for almost five years, Ayub and his companions were cleared of all charges and released in Albania – far from their home, and hardly the epitome of the West which they were dreaming about.
“My dream was to go abroad to study science,” says Ayub. “I have a relative in America, I thought I could go there too. When I left China I was a free man. I had all my documents, I was legal. Now everything has changed. I have no papers, nothing. Even my dreams have been destroyed.”
Today Ayub and his friends live in a run-down refugee centre in Tirana which houses Africans, Kurds, Iraqis and others. They fear that they have no hope of going back home to their families.
Filmmaker Bill Stout befriended these hapless refugees as they experienced A Strange Kind of Freedom.