How Uyghurs are silenced from sharing their suffering with the world
Many Uyghurs don’t speak out due to fear of repercussions and others don’t because they have been indoctrinated against criticising the Chinese government.
“Two months ago the UN and EU did some inspections in the region [Xinjiang], and my city was chosen for these inspections, and I heard they released a lot of people because they [China] want to hide what they’re doing to Uyghurs, and my mother could be one of the released, but I can’t confirm if the news is true because I don’t want to risk trying to contact her because they [Chinese authorities] will detain and torture her again or worse,” Arapat Erkin, an Uyghur refugee in the United States tells me.
Erkin hasn’t heard from either of his parents since China’s brutal crackdown in Xinjiang was launched in 2016, learning only of their incarceration in what has become a network of Muslim ‘concentration camps‘ in the northwestern province of Xinjiang.
“I was just studying in America when the crackdown started. My contact with them became less and less, and by the time I lost contact with my parents I just presumed they were too afraid to contact me knowing that contacting someone outside of the region poses a big problem for Uyghur,” says Erkin continuing that, “last year in August I learned through relatives who escaped to Kazakhstan that my mother had already been taken to a concentration camp at the end of 2017.”
Erkin arrived in the United States in October 2015 on a student visa, later successfully applying for refugee status due to what many have described as “cultural genocide” in Xinjiang, with the US Pentagon last month estimating that the number of Uyghur concentration camp detainees has increased from 1 million to 3 million in the past year.
Like the most horrific genocides of recent times, China is also targeting academics, journalists, and the elite among the 12 million Uyghur population, including Erkin’s father Erkin Tursun, a renowned and award-winning journalist and TV producer for a Chinese government-owned media outlet, who was handed an 11-year prison sentence.
“Tursun’s arrest came after he produced a program, ‘The World is Beautiful and Filled with Love and Care,’ which documented the financial struggles of three Uyghur students,” according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
China is using its network of concentration camps to detain Muslims who occupy the lower and middle rungs of Uyghur society but handing out prison sentences to those who occupy the upper stratosphere, including the influential and highly educated, or rather the very type who can lead an uprising against the government.
It’s also worth noting here that credible reports, one quoting a Chinese police official, also suggest China is using its vast prison system to disperse Uyghur across the country is an attempt to conceal the numbers of those detained in concentration camps from the international community.
A question asked by many in regards to China’s Muslim concentration camps, however, is why is there so little global outrage?
The answer to this question has many facets.
Firstly, the control the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has over all forms of digital, print, and social media. In China’s point of view, the control successfully stymies and deprives the rest of the world the kind of horrific images that might otherwise shock the international community into action.
Secondly, China’s ability to project its economic might through soft-power has bought the silence and complicity of the foreign governments it does business with.
The fact that not one Muslim majority country, excluding Turkey, has issued a public statement of condemnation regarding China’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims speaks to this point.
Thirdly, China, through its vast security apparatus, threatens Uyghur refugees abroad into silence by promising to detain or harm the family members of those who speak out against China’s human rights violations.
When I spoke with Arslan Hidayat, the son-in-law of detained internationally renowned Uyghur comic Adil Mijit, he told me many Uyghur are even too scared of speaking out against China within their communities—including those he lives among within the Uyghur expatriate community in Istanbul, Turkey—out of fear Chinese government informants will report them, and then in turn target their relatives in Xinjiang, a fear also echoed by Erkin.
Erkin also explained to me that not only are many Uyghur expatriates and refugees “too afraid” to talk publicly about their detained and missing loved ones because of fear of “revenge” by the Chinese government. He also adds that many don’t speak out against the government because they are socially conditioned by years of exposure to state indoctrination, no matter how heinous the crime is – even when it is against their community.
The evidence of China’s barbaric abuse of Uyghur Muslims is now undeniable, though. Not only do tens of thousands of personal testimonies harmonise and corroborate tens of thousands of others, but also satellite images and on the ground investigations confirm Uyghur claims.
“China has lied to the international community when it said these are not concentration camps, not prisons, and that they are teaching Muslims skills and trades,” a school teacher and former Kazakh Muslim detainee told CNN. “That’s not true at all because I saw it with my own eyes.”
Seemingly, and tragically, however, it may take the entire world to see with their own eyes the crimes taking place against Muslims in China before we see the kind of global condemnation that might pressure China into changing course.