Plight of Uighurs: China’s persecution of ethnic minorities continues under President Xi Jinping

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New Delhi: China is currently one of the foremost human rights abusers in the world. From the monks of occupied Tibet to the Uighur Muslims of occupied East Turkistan (Xinjiang In China), the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by President Xi Jinping has hounded the ethnic minorities in China for decades.

Ethnic minorities in China have been persecuted, lost all forms of privacy and even been forced into pseudo-slavery by the Chinese regime. But some continue to struggle against CCP’s attempts to erase their unique identities. Both inside and outside China, activists have stood up to the unfair and repressive policies of the Chinese government. Campaign for Uighurs is a US-based group that advocates for the human rights and democratic freedom of Uighurs as well as other ethnic Turkic minorities in East Turkistan.

On January 15, the group held an online event, wherein they invited prominent Uighur activists. During the online event, the panelists shared their experiences about forced disappearances of their family and relatives as well as the trials they have had to go through due to the abhorrent actions of the CCP.

The webinar, which was hosted by Campaign for Uighurs, was titled ‘Prioritizing the Uyghur Genocide: Voices of the Victims’. The goal of the webinar was to highlight the plight of Uighurs and also to bring to the forefront the requests of Uyghurs to the international community. Many Uighur diasporas are still searching for their family members and relatives that have been caught up in China’s genocide and their systematic attempts to eradicate (at least in terms of their unique identity) an entire minority race of people.

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The first speaker at the webinar was Jewher IIham. She is the daughter of renowned Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti. As it happens, the day of the webinar was also the 7″ Anniversary of detainment of her father by the Chinese government. Jewher stated that she sincerely wished that instead of remembering the day her father was detained six years ago, she could somehow celebrate the anniversary of her reunion with her father, though the reunion was yet to happen. Through tearful eyes Jewher added that she wished to smile and walk hand in hand with her father again, instead of walking with his photo and screaming for his release.

Jewher said that her father Ilham Tohti was a scholar and an intellectual, he was one of the very first Uighur that was arrested and also the first Uighur holding a Chinese passport to receive a life sentence. What Ilham Tohti did was try to foster dialogue between the Han Chinese and the Uighur people. He advocated for the religious and cultural beliefs of the Uighur people as well as equal opportunity for Uighurs in pursuing their dreams and ambitions.

Ilham Tohti was one of the most popular lecturers at the Minzu University in Beijing, a university that caters to ethnic minorities. For his entire career, he had worked to strengthen the position of Uighurs Muslims and foster better relations between the Han Chinese and the Uighurs.

In her ending remarks, Jewher stated that she wanted to urge the Chinese government to release her father as well all the other thousands of innocent Uighurs who were currently locked up in concentration camps, re-education centers, or prisons. She also added that she urges the incoming Biden administration to enforce the Uighur human rights Act of 2020 and ensure that mandated reports are delivered to Congress

The next speaker in the webinar was Ziba Murat. Ziba’s mother, Dr Gulshan Abbas was detained by Chinese police in order to intimidate her US- based sister, Rushan Abbas, who dared to speak out against the Chinese regime. Dr. Gulshan was detained on 11 September 2018. For two years, Gulshan’s family were in the dark about her whereabouts and only recently learned that she was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in March 2019 on fabricated charges. Ziba states that her mother is not a famous scholar or a renowned intellectual. “She is a retired medical professional and a non-political person, but her life is as valuable as any” Ziba added.

Ziba further said that the Uighur diaspora continues to live in torment, faced with the constant torture of not knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones or their condition. Uighurs are being enslaved in factories all across China, with families forcibly separated. Innocent people are being sent into concentration camps by the Chinese regime for just trying to follow their faith or contact their loved ones abroad.

Ziba also appealed to President-elect Biden and the incoming US administration. She wished to convey that her mother’s story was just one among thousands and that clear action was needed of the hour.

The next speaker at the webinar was Akida Pulkat. Akida is the daughter of Rahile Dawut, an eminent scholar of the Uyghur people. Duwut has been detained by the Chinese government since 12 December 2017. Before being detained, Duwut was a professor at Xinjiang University and one of the first Uighur women to receive her PhD. Throughout her career, Akida remembers that Duwut had received many awards from China’s Ministry of Culture and shared her work in Europe and the United States, becoming a guide to many foreign scholars.

Since being detained, Akida has been unable to contact her mother. Akida stated that for her mother’s students, she was a kind and jovial teacher and for her friends, she was a humorous, open-mind good person with a great personality. But Dawut is now in a place that knows no freedom and knows no laughter. Dawut is currently being detained in what China calls “re-education camps”.

Akida continued, over a million Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities are imprisoned in concentration camps across: occupied East Turkistan. She describes the CCP’s actions as a modern genocide against the Uighur people. Those stuck in these ‘re-education centers” have no freedom, they have to survive without fresh air and they are not even allowed to meet loved ones, Akida added.

“But all hope is not lost,” Akida said, suggesting that there are several ways in which people all over the world can help the Uighur cause. First, by raising awareness about the Uighurs and their plight. Social media is a powerful tool and should be used effectively for the cause. Second by writing to local officials about the issue such as abductions, unlawful detention, forced labour, etc. And third, is to stop supporting brands that profit from the forced labour of Uighurs. Forced Uighur labour is part of the supply chains of major companies.

The next speaker at the webinar was Jevian Shirmemet, a Uighur Turk. Jevian is currently living in Istanbul. His mother was arrested by Chinese police in early 2018. Jevian’s mother was held in a concentration camp for nearly a year and in late 2019 was sentenced without a formal trial. Jevian revealed that the supposed crime that his mother had committed was to visit Turkey to meet him. Jevian’s mother Suriya Tursun is a Chinese citizen who traveled to Turkey in 2013 with a Chinese passport. Her seemingly harmless actions were still considered crimes by the Chinese regime.

Jevian has tried to ascertain the location of his mother from the Chinese embassy in Turkey, but the officials did not share any more information than the fact that she was imprisoned. Suriya Tursun is an innocent person, same as the thousands of other Uighurs that have been arbitrarily detained in concentration camps across occupied East Turkistan. Jevian revealed that as a son, he is very worried about his mother’s health, her safety, and her very life. He extends a plea to democratic countries, international human rights organizations, and political parties to help him at least in getting answers regarding the situation of his mother.

The final speaker at the conference was Kamalturk Yalqun. His father, Yalqun Rozi was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in 2018. Kamalturk’s father was the chief editor of the Uyghur literature textbooks for middle school and elementary schools. The Chinese officials charged and imprisoned him because of “ideological problems” in the textbooks. After his father’s arrest Kamalturk became an activist and since then has been campaigning for his father’s release.

The candid statements of the panelists during the online session indicates that a climate of condemnation is slowly forming around China. Despite the CCP’s best efforts, brave activists like those on the panel continue to fight for the freedom and dignity of Uighur Muslims and all other ethnic minorities suffering under the repressive policies of the Chinese government. Slowly but surely, nations and people around the world have begun to take action and criticise China for its treatment of ethnic minorities.

The US recently announced that it has banned all cotton and tomato imports from Xinjiang due to mounting evidence of forced labour being used there. The UK has also condemned China for its treatment of minorities in East Turkistan and is also considering banning products sourced from Xinjiang as well as any items that have Xinjiang products in their supply chain.

China, however, continues to find itself isolated in the international realm and has been almost universally branded as a human rights abuser. Even though China continues to do all it can to suppress, dissent and hide its despicable actions, brave activists will continue to expose its deeds to the world.

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