By Memet Tohti Atawulla
Jan 5, 2020
Last week the Chinese state media Global Times published a special article showing a video and several photos of some Uyghurs, whom they claimed ‘the vocational training center graduates’ in Xinjiang, in an attempt to discredit diaspora Uyghurs. My youngest brother Ruzi Memet Atawulla, who has been detained in a concentration camp since March 2017, was one such ‘graduate’ mentioned in the article.
The article was a response to a social media campaign called #StillNoInfo launched by the diaspora Uyghurs to testify for their missing relatives who have been locked up in concentration camps in China. The campaign aimed at raising a question to the Xinjiang Governor Shohrat Zakir, after he falsely claimed ‘all trainees in Xinjiang re-education centers have graduated’ but the Uyghurs in the diaspora still haven’t heard from their families back home.
The Global Times article boasted that it ‘debunked’ the #StillNoInfo ‘rumor’ by showing several pictures of ‘happy residents’ of Xinjiang after the ‘re-education’. The article also falsely accused me of being ‘a member of separatist organizations’.
The fake ‘debunk’ is busted because the #StillNoInfo campaign was not a rumor and everything we said was true. Everyone who was mentioned during the campaign is a person with real stories. Otherwise, the Global Times wouldn’t have been able to find them and report their lives. Furthermore, I am not a member of any ‘separatist organizations’. I’m just a student, doing a Master’s degree in Political Science and International Relations in Turkey since 2016.
In 2017, my brothers Ruzi Memet Atawulla and Memet Eli Atawulla have been sent to concentration camps one after another. In April 2018, the Chinese police arrested my 60-year-old mother, Baishihan Hushur, along with 120 elderly Uyghur women and put her into the camp. My connection had been entirely cut off from my family since May 2018.
I needed to take action. Beginning from October 2018 I tried to free my innocent family from the concentration camps by speaking to international media, telling my personal stories and making video testimonies.
As a result, I was finally able to talk with some of my ‘free’ family members, who are not camp detainees, when Chinese police reached me via Wechat in May 2019. I was told not to make noise for my family if I wanted to keep in contact with them.
What I learned from the Wechat conversation was that my mother and Ruzi Memet are still locked up in the concentration camps as Memet Eli was transferred from the camp to a factory in our village.
The Global Times article said that Ruzi Memet Atawulla is a worker at a shoe factory in Hotan earning 2500 Chinese Yuan per month. It was portrayed as a charitable act from the Chinese Communist Party to the poor, unemployed Uyghurs. However, Ruzi Memet used to be a small business owner with 4000-5000 Yuan monthly income prior to his ‘training at the vocational center’ and forced to be a shoe-making worker. The Chinese Communist Party did not help my brother by ‘training and providing a job’ but illegally detained him, robbed him of his business, family life and freedom and used their propaganda as an excuse.
In the propaganda video my brothers said, ‘Brother, we sent you (to Turkey) to study. Why did you join the illegal organizations and deny our country’s good policies (towards us)? Brother, don’t harm our happy life”. I do not blame them for the video, because I know for a fact that if they haven’t done so, there would be consequences from the Chinese government. After all, there are other family members still living ‘free’ and they could be the next camp detainees. It was a clear message to me sent from the Chinese Communist Party in this hostage situation: ‘If you continue in testifying for your family, keep in mind that the fate of your family members is in our hands.”
This is not the first time China slandered and retaliated against the diaspora Uyghurs when they raised their voice for their missing families in China. They were falsely labeled as ‘separatists’, or even worse, ‘terrorists’. Last month, for example, the Chinese government announced two residents of the US, Ferkat Jevdet and Arafat Erkin, members of the ‘separatist’ organization- World Uyghur Congress. Jevdet and Erkin are neither separatists nor liars; Jevdet’s mother got seriously ill after being released from the concentration camp and Erkin’s father was sentenced to 19 years to prison after having disappeared for two years.
However, this is not a good government’s response to their citizens’ requests to find their missing families. China must stop kidnapping its own people and denying the fact that the so-called ‘re-education centers’ are indeed prison-style concentration camps. When confronted with the truth, China must accept it’s mistake and take responsible actions to make up for the people’s loss.
Even though I was happy to see Ruzi Memet alive after almost three years, to my disappointment, however, the article didn’t mention my mother whom I testified for in the latest #StillNoInfo post. I am speechless and worried about her health conditions. I do not know what the horrific conditions in the concentration camp have done to my mother’s fragile body and mind.
I did not have any direct contact with my family for almost two years. I do not know how they are doing and what is happening to them at present. If our relatives are really released from the camps and having good lives, why can’t we speak to them? Doesn’t it make more sense to know about their situation from them before the Chinese authorities ‘announce’ it to us on their propaganda news?
I ask the Chinese government to give me more information on my family, especially my mother, not through propaganda, but through direct communication with my family members without the police surveillance. I also demand the Chinese government grant passports and allow them to travel abroad. If people are really happy as the Global Times claimed, let them speak out for themselves, in person, in a safe environment without fear of the consequences!
The Global Times article is progress for me in my fighting for the freedom of my family. But, it is not enough! I will continue my struggle. Because there is #StillNoInfo about my mother, other relatives, and many friends.
I am not alone in this. In 2017, China started building a large concentration camp system to ‘re-educate’ the Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang. So far, at least 1 million Uyghurs and others have been sent to those camps. Some sources even say this number is up to 5 million. I believe more and more Uyghurs like me will testify for their families and the Chinese government will have to respond to all of us!