[On May 30, 2019 I attended an iftar in support of Uighur Solidarity at the National Cathedral School in Washington DC. I here summarize testimonies of the oppression of the UighurÂ people by the Chinese government by a concentration camp survivor and by a relative of concentration camp prisoners as well as recommendations for action by an American Muslim activist. These notes summarize my impression of highlights of the presentations and are not an attempted transcription.]
Mihrigul Tursun is a survivor of the concentration camp (called a “reeducation center” by the Chinese government). She returned to East Turkestan (called Xianjiang, which means “new border territory” by the government) from Egypt. At the airport her three children were taken away from her, and she was interrogated for three hours on why she went to Egypt. She was then taken to prison without being reunited with her children. She was subsequently sent three times to concentration camps.
Among the detainees at one camp was a 23-year-old woman who had been arrested along with 400 others for attending an Islamic party (one with no alcohol and only wholesome entertainment). In a camp with 230 cells nineÂ women died in three months. She was not allowed to shower for an entire year. She was rewarded with food for speaking in Chinese instead of her own language, but some older women who could not speak Chinese were denied food. When she was ordered to kiss shoes of guards for food,Â she found herself too upset to eat.
Detainees were subjected toÂ both physical and psychological torture if they declined to eat or to learn the Chinese language. Unable to stand the pain at one point, she begged to be killed, but they wouldnâ€™t let her off so easily. She began to cry out, “Ya Allah (O God)!” The torturer scoffed at her, “Who is stronger: me or your God? Where is your God? Your god is Xi Jinping! Your god is the Communist Party!” Because two of her children had Egyptian citizenship, she was told she could take them to Egypt, but if she didnâ€™t return to China, they would kill her family. Knowing this her father told her, “Donâ€™t come back.” She decided she would come to US to speak up and be the voice of her people. She says that every morning she wakes up in the U.S. but every night she is asleep in a concentration camp. She persists not so her dead son can come to life again or so her parents can rest easy, but because her people have no other voice. She says, “I must do something for my people, but I cannot; I can only tell you.”
The last time Fermat Jawdat saw his mother was in 2010. They have waited since then for her to get a Chinese passport. On Feb. 6 of last year he got a message from his mother that she was going to â€œschoolâ€. A month later five other members of his extended family were sent to the camps. Since last August he has been threatened repeatedly by the Chinese government to shut up. They even offered to release his mother if he would desist. He was told his mother, uncle, and aunt have been transferred to prisons and if he didnâ€™t shut up he would never see his mother again. He knows that he cannot choose between his mother’s life and the cause of his people, decision as to whether his mother lives or dies is not his to make, but he also knows that he cannot trust the Chinese government.
When he got a phone call from his mother, he cried. The most fearful thing in the world is the unknown, and until he heard her voice he did not know if she was dead or alive. She said she went to school where she learned Chinese language and laws. He felt as though he was listening to a propaganda film. She said, “My smart stubborn son you cannot be part of a group that criticizes ‘our’ government.” He knows that his mother is 52 years old and needs no training. He told her to tell those around her to contact him directly. Then he told her, “Mom I never did anything that would make you upset or sad.” He later learned that she had been released that day to make the call and then returned to prison and that she had been lying when she said she had been released two weeks earlier. He understood that when she called me her “smart, stubborn son” that she did not want him to stop. He said to us, “I stand here today to speak against the Chinese government because I donâ€™t want the same things to happen to other groups in China or in the U.S.”
Robert Morro is an American Muslim activist at the ADAMS center in Virginia. He says: We canâ€™t tolerate this. We must put an end to all of this. Almost 200 years after the opium wars its humiliation had not been forgotten. Face is something that must be saved. The people in China are following all these reports keenly aware of their humiliation. For a long time the Chinese got away with Tibet, and then the Falun Gong. In June 1998 everyone noted Tienanmen Square, but now few remember. We must make sure people are aware not only of what is going on but what they can do about it. Youâ€™ve got to spread the word. If we let a country like China get away with this, others will follow suit. If you donâ€™t think the Burmese, who have been persecuting the Rohingya are following what is happening in China closely, you are mistaken. Donâ€™t buy anything made in China and get more people to do the same. Get the media to take note. Get the word out on social media. On June 12 there will be an advocacy day on Capitol Hill. Politicians have a poor reputation, but they are people and if they hear the stories weâ€™ve heard here it has to have an impact. And everyone in Congress has some grievance against the Chinese government, whether its over human rights or trade, so they are all potential allies. Even if pro-Uighur legislation were vetoed, do you think the Chinese wonâ€™t take notice that it hadn’t gotten that far? They will never admit they were wrong, but if they save face by releasing the victims, why should we care that they refused to admit to wrongdoing.
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute