A whistle-blower who escaped a Chinese "reeducation camp" to reveal the horrors of life there after escaping to Kazakhstan is one of a dozen recipients of the U.S. State Department's International Women of Courage Award (IWOC) for 2020.
Sairagul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh from China's northwestern region of Xinjiang was one of the first victims to speak publicly about China's "repressive campaign against Muslims, igniting a movement against these abuses," the State Department said in a statement announcing the award, presented annually to women from around the world who have shown leadership, courage, resourcefulness, and willingness to make sacrifices for others, especially in promoting women's rights.
Sauytbay fled China in April 2018 and revealed in testimony at a Kazakh court that thousands of ethnic Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and other Muslims in Xinjiang were undergoing "political indoctrination" at a network of "reeducation camps."
Chinese authorities had forced her to train "political ideology" instructors for such reeducation camps, she said, giving her access to secret documents about what she called a state program to "reeducate" Muslims from indigenous ethnic communities.
"Her testimony was among the first evidence that reached the broader international community of the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party's] repressive policy, including both the camps and the coercive methods used against Muslim minorities," the State Department statement said.
The 12 women will be honored at a State Department ceremony on March 4.
Since the inception of the award in 2007, the State Department has recognized 146 women from 77 countries.
The 2020 awardees include Zarifa Ghafari, an Afghan journalist, who became mayor of Maidan Shar in the conservative Wardak Province, at the age of 26. Despite constant death threats and being forced to flee an angry male mob on her first day in office, Ghafari stayed in power and tackled many of her town's problems.
Jalila Haider, a human rights attorney from Pakistan known as the "Iron Lady of Balochistan," was chosen for the work of her We the Humans NGO, which has helped strengthen opportunities for vulnerable women and children.
The State Department also chose to honor Lucy Kocharian, an Armenian journalist, who has championed issues for children with mental health problems and has emerged as a leading voice in the fight against psychological, physical, and domestic violence against women and children.
Shahla Humbatova, one of a handful of lawyers in Azerbaijan who have been defending individuals facing punishment for exercising their fundamental freedoms was also honored.
The other seven recipients this year are Ximena Galarza of Bolivia, Claire Ouedraogo of Burkina Faso, Susanna Liew of Malaysia, Amaya Coppens of Nicaragua, Amina Khoulani of Syria, Yasmin al Qadhi of Yemen, and Rita Nyampinga of Zimbabwe.