Tales of Uyghurs who disappeared in Xinjiang

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ANI special feature

THE US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington has recorded the tales of several Uyghur living in exile after fleeing Chinese state-sponsored persecution in Western China province of Xinjiang. The horrifying tales of oppression told by those who were lucky to escape are enough to bring humanity to shame.

The Turkic Muslim group, which makes up around 45 per cent of Xinjiang’s population, has long accused China’s authorities of cultural, religious and economic discrimination. Rushan Abbas, an Uyghur American activist, has disclosed the inhumane treatment meted out to Uyghurs in Xinjiang, saying that women are subjected to mental and physical torture, and are given unknown injections and medications. “My only sister became the victim for my activism here in America [that I undertook] as an American citizen,” said Abbas. “These two women got picked up on the same day as the Chinese government’s way of sending me a loud and clear message to try to pressure me to be silent.”

Abbas and her family are Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim ethnic minority who mostly live in the western China province. The Chinese government for decades has tried to forcefully assimilate Uyghurs by force into the country’s majority Han cultural identity.

Rushan Abbas, Executive Director, Campaign for Uyghurs

Another victim of Chinese oppression is 37-year-old Bahram Sintash.

Sintash a content producer at US-based Radio Free Asia has been searching for his 70-year-old father for around three years.

His father, Qurban Mamut is a well-known Uyghur journalist and was detained by the Chinese government a couple of months after returning home from a visit with his son in the United States. “I don’t know where exactly–he disappeared. I would sell my house to get my father back but this is different. He’s kidnapped by a very powerful government and they don’t need money,” Sintash said.

Sintash never thought he would become an activist. In 2009, he attended a protest in Washington, DC, in response to the Chinese government’s violent reaction to Uyghurs protesting persecution in Xinjiang. While voicing his dissent in DC, Sintash held the East Turkestan flag, which represents a movement seeking Xinjiang’s independence from China. “[Later that year] the police came to my parents’ home and told them that they had a picture of me holding up the flag and attending protests,” said Sintash. “They told my parents to tell me never to attend any political things. They threatened my family members to control me.”

Besides Sintash, there is Mamatjan Juma whose life drastically changed after 2016. Juma used to stay in regular touch with his family in Xinjiang. That changed four years back when the Chinese government started sending Uyghurs to detention centres and monitoring their everyday lives. “My parents all of a sudden said, ‘Don’t talk to your brothers anymore,'” said Juma. “‘Just talk to us and we’ll send your greetings to them.'”

“Later on, I realized that two of my brothers were taken away by the government in May 2017 and my parents didn’t and couldn’t tell me that,” he added. “They censored themselves because we knew that we could not ask certain questions unless it was about their daily lives.”

A collage of missing Uighurs in Xinjiang. #MetooUyghur campaign image circulate on social media (GlobalVoices)

“He is a very intelligent and a very principled person. I heard from a mutual friend that both my brothers were tortured the first time they were detained. My other brother, Abdukadir, was almost beaten to death. They never told me this because it could be seen as sensitive information and classified as a state secret. Of course, it’s a state secret because the Chinese government is torturing people,” said Juma.

There are several other tales that speak about the horrors being faced by Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region. Classified documents known as the China Cables, accessed last year by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, threw light on how the Chinese government uses technology to control Uyghur Muslims worldwide.

However, China regularly denies such mistreatment and says the camps provide “vocational training.” People in the internment camps have said they are subjected to forced political indoctrination, torture, beatings and denial of food and medicine, besides being prohibited from practising their religion or speaking their language.

East Turkistan Govt

The East Turkistan Government-in-Exile has urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to support a complaint against China and recognise atrocities committed by Beijing against Turkic people in Occupied East Turkistan as “genocide”.

Prime Minister Salih Hudayar, in a statement, said, “We urge all governments, especially member states of the ICC, to support our case against China and also to recognise China’s atrocities against Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and other Turkic peoples in Occupied East Turkistan as genocide.”

According to the official statement, the complaint, backed by more than 60 parliamentarians from 16 countries, says the Chinese government may be committing genocide and other crimes against humanity against the Uyghur and other Turkic peoples in East Turkistan.

Hudayar also spoke about the Canadian Parliament’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights and International Development, which in October designated the Chinese Government’s atrocities against Uyghur and other Turkic peoples in East Turkistan as “genocide” as defined under the UN Genocide Convention. “We thank the Canadian Parliament and urge the Canadian Government to follow through with the subcommittee’s recommendations,” Hudayar said.

He also expressed his gratitude, to a team of US Senators who introduced a resolution in the country’s Senate to recognise Bejing’s “genocide against Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples.” Hudayar further thanked the US Government’s decision of removing the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) from the terror list, which Beijing used for years to justify the genocide of Uyghurs in China. “We thank the US Government, especially Secretary Pompeo, for highlighting the plight of East Turkistan and its people,” Hudayar said.

Further talking about the atrocities committed by China, PM of East Turkistan Government in Exile, said, “Aside from locking up millions of people in concentration camps, prisons and using them as slave labour or killing them for their organs, we suspect China might be engaging in or planning to engage in biological warfare against Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples.”

“In 2017, the PLA’s Biowarfare Strategy textbook hinted at using ‘ethnic-specific genetic attacks’ against China’s enemies. In 2018, Chinese state media Xinhua reported that between 2016-2017 some 36 million people between the ages of 12 and 65 had their DNA, voiceprints, and retina scans collected across East Turkistan,” Hudayar added.

He further said that China is downplaying the actual population of East Turkistan and its people. “In 1947, the Government of East Turkistan Republic had submitted documents to the U.S. State Department, which estimated the population of East Turkistan’s Turkic people at being 7 million at the time. Today, China claims Uyghurs and other Turkic people’s number only 13.5 million, with some 12 million Uyghurs. Based on historical data and population growth rate calculations, we estimate the population of Uyghur and other Turkic peoples in East Turkistan number from 35 to 40 million,” he said.

“We call on governments and organisations to do further research to figure the actual population of East Turkistan and its people,” Hudayar added.

He also condemned Muslim leaders like Pakistan’s Imran Khan and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan for their silence on the human rights issue in the East Turkistan region. “We also thank the western various countries and parliaments across the world for speaking up on our issue. We condemn the Muslim world’s silence, especially Muslim leaders like Pakistan’s Imran Khan and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Muslim world needs to break their silence and come to the aid of the most oppressed Muslims in the world, the Muslims of East Turkistan,” Hudayar said.

The designation of East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a terrorist organisation was used by China as a pretense for the genocide of the Uyghurs and people have been falsely linked to the ETIM movement for expressing their ethnic identity and religious beliefs, according to the human rights group Campaign For Uyghurs (CFU).

While lauding US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to revoke the designation of ETIM from its terrorist list, CFU said in a statement that “the integrity of this decision speaks volumes, and as the leadership of the Chinese regime has changed to a softer tone as it tries to suck up to what it views as the sure next US administration.”

This statement comes after the US government’s decision to remove ETIM from its terrorist list after nearly two decades that has led to the weakening of China’s anti-terror pretext for a draconian crackdown on Uyghurs in its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Pompeo announced that the group had been removed from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act, according to an order issued on October 20 made public on Thursday. (ANI)