Uyghurs, Prisoners Of The Absurd


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd
"Packed with information throughout."

What would you do if a plane dropped leaflets over your house offering you lots of money if you turned in a terrorist? Imagine you're really struggling to make ends meet, and imagine someone has just moved in down the street and you don't like the look of him. Perhaps you're still not tempted but, alas, many people are. This film follows the stories of three Uyghur men who, fleeing the Chinese regime in their homeland, passed through Pakistan and Afghanistan around the time that the American started dropping leaflets like that. They were sold out by the locals and soon found their dreams of freedom crushed as they were beaten, tortured, and shipped off to Guantánamo Bay.

It's a Kafkaesque situation and one that just gets more absurd as the story goes on. Because America is a democratic country, say the men, they were initially relieved to be in American hands; they assumed that the authorities there would be familiar with the circumstances of their people and would help them. Yet they were met with confusion, endless interrogations and - worst of all - interrogation by visiting Chinese officers who did everything they could to work around the rules preventing them from torturing the men there in the American camp. Gradually it dawned on the authorities that they really couldn't find any evidence the men were guilty - but, because all the inmates of Guantánamo Bay had been labelled as the world's most dangerous terrorists, it was politically impossible to let them go.

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98 minutes long and packed with information throughout, the film follows what happened to the men over several years and a series of attempts to win their freedom - both on paper and in practice. Director Patricio Henríquez interviews lawyers, government officials and the translator who helped the men communicate with their interrogators, a woman who clearly went through a lot of stress herself as a result of what she saw and heard. There's footage from inside the prison, revealing the cells and interrogation rooms and, in the most infamous section, a supposed exercise yard that is basically a tall chimney with a grill at the top, the only place where prisoners in that unit might, if they were lucky, get to see the sun. The worst of it, however, is not the buildings themselves, it's the constant assurance that freedom will come really soon, really soon, as what one prisoner calls the 'beautiful years' of his life, his late twenties, tick away. Everybody keeps saying "Just be patient," as if the prisoners have a choice.

With subject matter like this, one might expect the film to be grim from start to finish. In fact, it is in some ways quite uplifting, in that the three men whose stories are told all seem to have come through it emotionally intact - troubled, no doubt, but still able to take pleasure in life, still optimistic. As such, the film is not only a condemnation of an insane system in which human well-being is the last thing to be considered, it's a salute to human resilience.

Reviewed on: 07 Mar 2015
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How China's Uyghur minority got caught up in the US invasion of Iraq and ended up illegally detained in Guantanamo.

Director: Patricio Henríquez

Year: 2014

Runtime: 99 minutes


Human Rights 2015

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Four Days Inside Guantanamo