Feb 12, 2019

East Turkestan: Families of Detainees Call for ‘Proof of Life’ Videos of their Relatives

On 10 February, Chinese authorities released a video supposedly proving the well-being of the Uyghur musician Abdurehim Heyit. Whilst the release of the video of Mr Heyit’s confession was released as a response to Turkey’s statement indicating he may have died in custody, the plan is generally backfiring as a great number of diaspora activists demand similar videos on social media. Social media efforts are organised under the #MeTooUyghur tag. Turkey’s claims about Abdurehim Heyit’s presumed death also sparked a diplomatic row with China.

This article was published by the Guardian:

Beijing’s latest efforts to dispel criticism of its treatment of Uighur Muslims in the northwestern Chinese territory of Xinjiang appear to be backfiring.

In an effort to dispel rumours of the death of famous Uighur poet Abdurehim Heyit, who disappeared in Xinjiang in 2017, Chinese state media released a video of Heyit attesting to his health. In the video, he says he is in police custody and has “never been abused”.

Now, activists and members of the Uighur diaspora are calling for proof of life videos of their relatives who have disappeared into a network of internment camps that China claims are “vocational training centres”. Under the hashtag #MeTooUyghur, members of the Uighur community are posting the names and photos of their missing family members.

“Chinese authorities showed video as proof Mr Heyit is still alive. Now, we want to know, where are millions of Uyghurs?” Murat Harri Uyghur, an activist living in Finland, posted on Twitter, calling on others to join the campaign.

Advocates say one million people from the ethnic minority Muslim group have been forced into the camps where they undergo forced political indoctrination, abuse, and isolation from from their families. Some believe many more have been detained.

Arslan Hidayat, the son-in-law of a prominent Uighur comedian, Adil Mijit, who has been missing since November, said in a video posted on Facebook: “We would also like a similar sort of proof of life video of Adil Mijit and the rest of our three to five million brothers and sisters who have been locked up in Chinese concentration camps.”

Tahir Imin, an activist based in Washington, wrote: “Show us my daughter… 11 children separated from their parents, and 20 family members including my brother Adil, stepmom Tuhan, sister Patigul and Turaqiz, my cousins Yusup, Ghappat, Niyaz …”

Uighurs outside of China struggle to glean information about family that have been sent to the camps. Many have not been able to speak to their relatives in China for years.

Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang can be punished for communicating with people outside of the country, especially those in Muslim-majority countries. WeChat, the primary messaging platform, is believed to be closely surveilled.

On Saturday, Turkey issued a rare rebuke of China in a statement citing reports of Heyit’s death. Turkey, which has long welcomed Uighur refugees, called China’s treatment of Uighurs a “great shame for humanity”.

On Monday, China’s foreign ministry called Turkey’s statement “absurd lies” and said that Heyit was being investigated for endangering national security.

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the ministry defended China’s policies in Xinjiang, previously home to outbursts of ethnic violence and attacks.

“Drawing on the anti-terrorism experience of the international community and based on its realities, the Chinese government has been actively working to counter terrorism and extremism and made notable achievements. People in Xinjiang now have a stronger sense of security, happiness and fulfilment,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons