It was 2011, and she was living in Hotan, an oasis town in Xinjiang, in northwest China. The 30-year-old, Nurjamal Atawula, loved to take pictures of her children and exchange strings of emoji with her husband while he was out. In 2013, Atawula downloaded WeChat, the Chinese social messaging app. Not long after, rumors circulated among her friends: The government could track your location through your phone. At first, she didn’t believe them.
In early 2016, police started making routine checks on Atawula’s home. Her husband was regularly called to the police station. The police informed him they were suspicious of his WeChat activity. Atawula’s children began to cower in fear at the sight of a police officer. The harassment and fear finally reached the point that the family decided to move to Turkey. Atawula’s husband, worried that Atawula would be arrested, sent her ahead while he stayed in Xinjiang and waited for the children’s passports.