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Voices of the Dispossessed: Uyghur Families Reveal the Persecution of Loved Ones

Tasnim Nazeer investigates the plight of family members of missing Uyghur Muslims persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang

Demonstration ‘Freedom for Uyghurs’ in The Hague, Netherlands. Photo: SOPA Images/SIPA USA/PA Images

Voices of the DispossessedUyghur Families Reveal the Persecution of Loved Ones

Tasnim Nazeer investigates the plight of family members of missing Uyghur Muslims persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang

An estimated 1.5 million Uyghur Muslims are being forcibly detained in internment camps in Xinjiang, north-west China. The Chinese government has stripped Uyghurs of their right to practise their religion, forcing them to denounce their faith and embrace the Communist Party. Uyghur Muslims that are detained in these camps, are reported to be closely monitored and surrounded by razor wire and strict surveillance, limiting any contact with the outside world including access to their families. 

Yalkun Mehmet, a PhD student who came to Istanbul in 2013 lost contact with his family who he fears have been taken by Chinese authorities. In 2017 his uncle disappeared and has not been heard from since. Following his uncle’s disappearance, Mehmet then found out that his father was also detained by the Chinese government without reason. 

“I have not even heard my father’s voice and do not know whether he is alive. He was on regular police checks and talking to me once a week or so. In June 2018, I was about to graduate from my university, he asked about my legal documents. After a few days, he stopped talking to me. I understood that he was taken away for questioning. I confirmed he indeed was captured by police after 3 weeks. But could not obtain any information on the detention reason, the place he was held and the condition of his health.

I demand the Chinese government to release my father immediately and give him the right to talk to me, freedom to travel and freedom to leave the country”.

According to previous accounts published recently in Byline Times, the Uyghur population used to amount to 92,000 people but now there are only 20,000. In addition, 80% of Uyghur Muslims have disappeared in the last four years. 

‘Incitement to Ethnic hatred’

“The establishment and existence of the internment camps in Xinjiang are not compatible with the laws of the People’s Republic of China, nor with international law. This is illegal.” 

These are the words of Tahir Mutällip Qahiri, an Uyghur Muslim who is calling for justice after his father Mutallip Sidiq Qahari was kidnapped by the Chinese government and arrested in the Uyghur city of Kashgar. 

Tahir Qahiri Mutallip holding a photo of his father 

Qahiri has been living in Germany for over 14 years and works in the University of Gottingen as a lecturer for Uyghur language and literature. His father, a well-known Uyghur scholar at Kashgar University, editor-in-chief and author of over 20 books promoting Uyghur and Arabic culture was arrested at the university by the Chinese government.  

“At the beginning of November 2018, the radio programme “Radio Free Asia” reported that 30% of the employees of “Uyghur Publishing House of Kashgar” had been arrested. These people are Uyghurs. Since half of my father’s books were published by this publishing house, my suspicion was greatly strengthened that my father had also been kidnapped by the Chinese government.”

Qahiri then contacted the reporter at Radio Free Asia to ask him to find out what had happened to his father. 

 “The reporter Hoshur told me that my father Mutällip Sidiq Qahiri was arrested about two months ago (between summer and autumn 2018). After that, the financial department of Kashgar University asked about my father’s state pension. A Chinese lady on the phone told me that my father’s pension has been stopped since October 2018. This is also proof that my father was arrested around October 2018.”

The following year Qahiri received an unexpected video call from his family, having not heard from them for almost 17 months. It was then that he found out that his father, mother and siblings were all still alive. His father appeared on the video call but could be heard telling someone next to him, “My son says that he wants to have a video call with me”.

“ He was not free to decide whether he could have a video call with me. During the whole conversation all the family members looked very frightened. All my family members denied my father’s arrest by all means, as if there were police officers at our house.

My father looked physically weak and tired and had almost no hair. He had lost a lot of weight. He was very thin so I could see his bones clearly. I had the feeling that my father was tortured and humiliated either in a prison or in a camp. My father’s health is not good now. I think that he will carry the physical and psychological damage of his imprisonment for a long time to come.”

Qahiri has been able to call his parents every fortnight but the conversation only lasts two minutes and is often interrupted by people unknown to him which he believes is the Chinese authorities.  

“I was urged by my parents not to talk to foreign media and from this, I can deduce that my family is under pressure from the Chinese Communist Party. When I asked to speak to my siblings, my parents say they can’t come to the phone. I am very worried about my siblings in Xinjiang.”

Qahiri’s father has now been charged with “incitement to ethnic hatred”. At the beginning of 2020 he was sentenced to a 30-month prison term with four years’ probation. 

“The sentence is absurd. The reason for my father’s sentence is that he had incited inter-ethnic hatred. All publications that my father wrote and edited were published at that time with the permission of the Communist Party.” 

To date, China has not shown any evidence of where Qahiri’s father has allegedly incited hatred against ethnic groups and has not presented any legal evidence to legitimise the arrest.  Qahiri claims that the verdict and trial are “against the constitution of the People’s Republic of China.” 

It grants freedom of research, freedom of opinion and cultural freedom. There are also laws on territorial autonomy for minorities. These say that minorities are allowed to research, preserve and transmit their own culture. What my father did is legal.”

Like many Uyghurs living abroad and having family members in the autonomous region of Xinijiang, Qahiri calls on the Chinese government to release them and stop the human rights violations that are occurring against the Uyghur Muslims. Recent reports of forced sterilisation of Uyghur women and deliberate killings of Uyghurs are just some of the violations of human rights that Uyghurs that Qahiri says have been happening for some time. 

 “This is a deliberate killing of the offspring of an ethnic group. That is genocide. I urge the Chinese government to stop this and immediately rehabilitate my father’s pension and end the house arrest immediately.” 

Qahiri like many other Uyghur Muslim fight for the day when they can be reunited with their loved ones once again and see an end to the years of suffering that Uyghur Muslims in China have had to face. 

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