Mainstreaming Stories: A Day of Solidarity with Uyghurs

Henryk Szadziewski, Senior Researcher, Uyghur Human Rights Project

The accounts of the ‘re-education’ regime that people are undergoing in those camps are harrowing…I imagine my lovely, principled, dedicated colleague there, and I feel incredibly angry.

Dr. Rachel Harris, University of London

The disappearance of Dr. Rahile Dawut, a leading expert on Uyghur folklore and traditions at Xinjiang University, into an internment camp around December 2017 shocked her academic peers outside of China as the above quote notes. Dr. Rahile worked and is friends with several overseas scholars focused on Uyghurs. In an essay for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Dr. Darren Byler wrote about the indispensable support Dr. Rahile offered to researchers from the United States and Europe. Rahile’s pioneering ethnographies and student-centered approach earned her the respect of the academic community in the Uyghur homeland and abroad. She collected stories and as Darren Byler wrote she showed “how Uyghurs can take control of their own stories by sharing knowledge of their land.”

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It has been more than two years since we learned about the mass-internment of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in camps. Researchers have used Internet searches of government construction bids, analysis of satellite images, and interviews with Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples to uncover these secretive camps. One of these researchers, scholar Adrian Zenz, estimates the number of individuals in camps at a staggering 1.5 million.

The tight state restrictions imposed on research in the Uyghur homeland can create an information void on what is happening in the region. However, the painstaking work of these scholars offers credible evidence contradicting the Chinese government’s claim that the camps are merely ‘vocational training centers’ and presents an analytical understanding of current conditions undertaken from years of interactions with the land and people.

The response to Dr. Rahile’s disappearance and the determined exposure of human rights abuses on a vast scale is testament to a close connection between knowledge and relationships among scholars of the Uyghur experience. Given these commitments, at a time of emergency, academics are speaking out. The academy is sometimes criticized as slow to respond to crises, so when a large group of experts raises the alarm, we should listen to these voices.

For example, the November 26, 2018 ‘Statement by Concerned Scholars on China’s Mass Detention of Turkic Minorities’ includes 646 signatories from 40 countries and “calls on states and institutions to issue formal statements demanding that Xi Jinping and Chen Quanguo immediately abolish the ‘transformation through education’ detention system and release all Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and other detainees.” The ‘Xinjiang Initiative’ includes 278 academics willing “to raise awareness of the situation in Xinjiang at every public event in which they are a participant,” and 391 academics have signed the ‘Czech and Slovak Appeal for the Closure of Political Reeducation Camps for Uyghurs and Other Minorities and for the Observance of Internationally Acknowledged Human Rights in the People’s Republic of China.”

On April 26, scholars will take a further step and hold ‘Mainstreaming Stories: A Day of Solidarity with Uyghurs.’ Leading researchers on Uyghurs will hold a local talk in twelve locations about the ongoing emergency in the Uyghur homeland and the initiative includes presentations by:

The series of events on three continents offers an opportunity to hear the work of these scholars, their experiences in the Uyghur region, and why the current mass-internment campaign should be a cause for global action.

A recent Uyghur Human Rights Project report documented the disappearance, internment, and imprisonment of nearly 400 Uyghur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz intellectuals. As part of the research team working on the report, I asked Uyghur intellectuals in exile about the long-term consequences of the mass-internment campaign and the targeting of intellectuals. Artist Rahima Mahmut responded: “By destroying the scholars, artists, and intellectuals there will be a void, as there will be no one to represent the thoughts and direction that future generations require to build for the future, using their deep historical and cultural knowledge.” As Rahima notes, stories matter. They become collective memories and the foundation of learning. At present, Dr. Rahile Dawut cannot tell her stories; however, her colleagues are filling the silence.

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Statement of Senator Marco Rubio – April 6, 2019, Uyghur Freedom Rally

April 6, 2019

“I want to applaud the Uyghur Human Rights Project for organizing this rally to stand against the detention of a million or more Uyghurs in political education camps in China.  I applaud your efforts and will continue to work with you to end the horrific abuses being committed by the Chinese government and Communist Party.

We must all continue to speak with one voice on this issue. The Chinese government’s creation of a vast system of internment and surveillance cannot be tolerated in the 21st century.

As a U.S. Senator, I promise to continue shining a light on China’s brutal campaign against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities, including the detainment of U.S. residents. Earlier this year, I re-introduced my bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. This bill not only condemns the gross human rights violations  in Xinjiang Autonomous Region, but also requires reporting on the involvement of Chinese companies in the construction and operation of the detention camps as well as Chinese efforts to intimidate or harass Americans here at home.  It is my hope that Congress will take up and pass this important bill and that President Trump will quickly sign it into law.

We must do all we can to hold accountable Chinese government officials who are responsible for the abuses. The Chinese government must understand clearly that the United States and the free world will not accept this behavior abroad or tolerate foreign interference against our citizens on American soil.”

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

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Statement of Congressman Jim McGovern – April 6, 2019, Uyghur Freedom Rally

April 6, 2019

Good afternoon and thanks to all of you for the invitation to join you today. Although I am unable to be with you in person, I want you to know that I am with you in spirit and I stand in solidarity with your struggle on behalf of the rights and freedom of the Uyghur people.

That is why I was an original cosponsor of both bills that you are here to support: The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act (H.R. 649 and S. 178) and the Uighur Intervention and Global Humanitarian Unified Response (UIGHUR) Act of 2019 (H.R. 1025).

For too long the U.S. government has talked the talk but not walked the walk when it comes to countering China’s repression of Uyghur rights. We need to go beyond words; we need to make sure there are consequences for China’s repression of the Uyghur people. These bills are an important step in that direction and we need to work together to make sure they both pass. Please take that message to your Member of Congress and tell your friends to tell their Members of Congress – Congress must act! These bills must become law!

We have known for a long time that the Uyghurs in China suffer at the hands of the Chinese authorities. We have known about the restrictions imposed on the use of the Uyghur language and on religious practices including the training of Muslim clerics, the celebration of Ramadan, the use of veils and the growing of beards. We have known how hard it is for Uyghurs to get passports and we have seen the reports of the forced repatriation of Uyghurs living outside of China. All of these policies violate the basic human rights of the Uyghur people.

But in the last couple of years the Chinese have doubled down in a whole new way using cutting-edge surveillance technology and mass so-called “re-education” camps to try to stamp out Uyghur identity. People rightly fear what could come next. And that is why we are all here today.

So let’s get going, let’s pass these bills, let’s end the persecution of Uyghurs and let’s all say to China: great countries are rights-respecting countries. Great countries do not fear or trample on ethnic minorities. Great countries do not put massive numbers of people in camps or cages or behind bars. Great countries let their peoples speak their language, practice their faith and live their lives. Until the Uyghurs have the right to live their lives as they choose, China will not be a great country.

Thank you.

Rep. James P. McGovern

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