By Muhammad Mussa
LONDON (AA) – A conference held in London on Wednesday discussed the plight of China’s Uighur Muslims and heard from a panel of scholars, journalists and thinkers on the oppression they are facing from Chinese authorities.
The conference was organized by the Cordoba Foundation and hosted speakers such as Dr. Anas Altikriti, the foundation’s CEO and founder, Uighur activists and scholars Rahime Mahmut, Mahmut Turdi and Aziz Isa Elkun, Labour MP Emily Thornberry, Rodney Dixon QC, a human rights lawyer and Louise Payne-Jones, head of research at the International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR).
Hosting the conference was Dr. Altikriti, who started off by saying that the event was timely and important.
“Throughout this evening, we will all hear from different perspectives in regards with this particular issue that will highlight something that is seldom talked about -- in fact, for some reason, almost never talked about. So today, we will highlight those perspectives.”
He also spoke of his surprise at how many people, Muslims in particular, don’t know of the Uighur Muslims who live in China and the decades of oppression they have faced at the hands of the Communist Party.
The oppression faced by the Uighurs, according to Altikriti, amounts to cultural genocide and the Cordoba Foundation will be holding extensive and in-depth sessions in the coming months and years aimed at raising awareness on the plight of Uighurs.
Also addressing the conference was Uighur activist Rahime Mahmut.
“For the last 18 years, I was unable to return to see my family and beloved homeland because of my involvement in speaking out against human rights violations imposed on my people by the Chinese government,” she said.
Mahmut said it has been over two years since she last spoke to her family, who live in Xinjiang, also known as East Turkestan, and noted that her brother told her not to contact the family anymore out of fear that Chinese security forces would detain them in concentration camps for staying in contact with a Uighur human rights activist.
“Please leave us in God’s hands and we’ll leave you in God’s hands too,” Mahmut’s brother told her in January 2017.
“He indirectly told me ‘not to contact us anymore’, and up till today, I don’t know how they are, if they are safe, or if they are interned in these so-called ‘re-education camps,” she added.
Mahmut Turdi, another Uighur activist living in exile, spoke of his experience being detained and interrogated in his home town of Karamay two days after getting married to his wife, who was also detained and interrogated without his knowledge.
“Two days after my marriage, I knew there were Chinese security forces behind us, and they had taken me from my room to a local hotel and I didn’t know that they had also taken my wife, and so I was interrogated for two days because of my identity, and because I studied in the West, they were paranoid as to who I associated with,” Turdi said.
Upon returning to the UK in 2003, Turdi’s Chinese passport was cancelled and he was banned from visiting his family in East Turkestan. As such, it has been 15 years since he last saw or spoke to his family, and he has no knowledge as to how they are doing and whether or not they are free.
Rodney Dixon QC, the human rights lawyer, and Louise Payne-Jones, head of research at IOHR, described how Xinjiang and its major cities and towns are turning into a police state, with surveillance and intelligence gathering invading Uighur people’s personal lives in an attempt to “sinicise” them and crush their culture and religion.
They explained how police stations and concentration camps are being built in alarming numbers to control most aspects of Uighur people’s lives. This they argue, along with the mass detainment and torture of Uighur Muslims in the so-called ‘re-education’ camps, is cultural genocide aimed at destroying Uighur Turkic culture and assimilating them into the dominant Chinese Han culture.
As such, Uighurs are prevented from practicing basic tenets of their faith such as observing the daily prayers, reading the Quran and fasting during the month of Ramadan.
Chinese authorities have repeatedly stated that they are detaining people accused of minor crimes and that they are being held in centers of re-education, where they enjoy their time and are ‘grateful’ to be there. But personal accounts from former detainees paint an Orwellian picture where Uighurs are prevented from observing their religious duties.
According to a report published by Human Rights Watch, the Chinese government has carried out these repressive policies for many years against the Uighur people and the mass detention of Uighur Muslims in concentration camps is the latest in a campaign of oppression and repression.
The Uighur people are of Turkic ethnicity, and although they form a majority in the Muslim Xinjiang Autonomous Region, they are a minority in China.