By Fatimah Abdulghafur
On December 8, 2019, the Global Times (GT), a Chinese propaganda media, has published news on the missing members of the diaspora Uighurs. In the news, they showed pictures of some missing people and depicted them as ‘free, happy and healthy’.
To clarify the GT’s statement, the Uighur Times has interviewed the Uighurs mentioned in the news. Memet Tohti Atawulla, a master’s student in Turkey, told us the true story about his brother Ruzi Memet Atawulla’s ‘reappearance’ on the GT news after missing for two years in China. Atawulla’s response debunked the GT’s fabrication (See Part 1).
Unfortunately, the majority of the diaspora Uighurs are not as ‘lucky’ as Atawulla. They are still desperate to hear any message from their families in China.
Najmidin Reman, a citizen of the Netherlands, lost contact with his family since the end of 2015. On his last call to Kashgar, East Turkistan (AKA Xinjiang), Reman’s mother told him not to call or contact the family anymore.
Three years later, Reman got the sad news of his grandfather’s passing. According to the description, he was taken to the concentration camp in 2016 in Kashgar, got ill there, and passed away within a month.
For Reman bad news did not end there. His father passed away in March 2019. His mother, younger brother, and two sisters, as well as many relatives, became the camp victims.
Reman called the Kashgar police station to enquire about his family but no one responded to his question. He then contacted the Chinese embassy in the Netherlands and submitted a request for connecting him with his family in Kashgar. The embassy told Reman that they do not have any relations with ‘Xinjiang’ and he should go back there to look for his relatives if he wishes to do so.
Of course, Reman did not and could not go to East Turkistan. Because he knew too well that it was a trap set up by the Chinese regime to detain Uighurs in the diaspora upon returning to China. Instead, Reman started raising awareness on social media since January 2019. He made testimonial videos for the Uyghur Pulse Project and used various hashtags to demand the Chinese government to release his family and relatives from the concentration camps. #StillNoInfo was one of such actions, yet he did not see any response from the Chinese regime.
Reman is not alone in this case. Abdurehim Gheni, a 41-year-old soil care analyst at a private company in Wageningen in the central Netherlands, is also raising awareness on his family’s disappearance by setting up a one-man-protest in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
15 are missing from his family since 2017, including two elder brothers, one younger brother, stepmother and his wife’s family in Aksu, East Turkistan. May 23, 2017, was the last time Gheni spoke with his father. Two weeks after the conversation, his father’s phone got disconnected. On June 12, 2017, Gheni received a message from his brother on WeChat, telling him not to contact or message them and don’t associate himself with his family. His brother then deleted him from the WeChat and Gheni’s numerous phone calls are left unanswered until today.
Gheni was worried about his father’s safety, so he asked one of his friends who is living in Chinese inner land to contact his family. His friend informed him that a calamity has stricken the family and he must forget about them. Shocked and anxious, Gheni thought that his father may have passed away. Strong emotions motivated him to go public with his story, hence he launched the ongoing solo-protest in Amsterdam on June 23, 2018.
The human rights activist, Gheni, describes the protest as ‘a call for humanitarian help for my missing family and the Uighur people as well as for our occupied homeland- East Turkistan’. Long hours of protest in Dam Square, in front of one of the royal palaces of the Netherlands, have drawn attention from many. Tourists and locals have been signing a petition to close the concentration camps and demanding the release of Gheni’s family from the camps.
Gheni has also written to the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry replied to him with an apology for what is happening in Xinjiang but their inability to provide assistance to Gheni’s family. The Ministry stated that the Xinjiang issue is Chinese internal affairs and the Ministry does not hope to interfere with it. Despite this, the Ministry raised concerns on this issue to the Chinese government and suggested Gheni be patient.
Feeling hopeful, Gheni sent two more letters to the Ministry and made a passionate plea for help with sending an inquiry to the Chinese embassy on behalf of him. The Ministry agreed and sent the inquiry to the Chinese embassy. Three months have passed yet Gheni is still waiting for the Embassy’s comments.
Disappointed with the Chinese embassy, Gheni explored other options. He sent an open letter to the Netherlands King where he wrote, ‘Here, with all due respect, and as a citizen of the Netherlands, I ask you to protect your citizens’ basic right of contacting their family members, keeping their safety and knowing their whereabouts’. No remarks from the King so far.
Even though Gheni’s activism has not achieved much yet, he is still actively engaging with the Uighur social media campaigns. In December 2019, in response to the Shohrat Zakir’s unjustified claim of ‘freed Uighurs’ from the ‘re-education camps’, Gheni posted a video testimony on his family using the StillNoInfo hashtag. Despite all the efforts, there is still no information from his family.
Bahtiyar Omar, the manager of UTJD based in Norway, told the Uighur times that diaspora Uighurs are angered with the Zakir’s fake claim.
Omar said, ‘after the Shohrat Zakir’s deceptive announcement on December 8, 2019, we felt strong anger from the diaspora Uighurs. Outraged people sent us testimonies on their still missing loved ones demanding answers from Zakir. Within a day, 18 video testimonies on 86 people were collected. On average, each family had at least one disappeared member in China. There were exceptions, however; one family reported 13 missing cases and a woman testified for 53. Two camp-related deaths were also recorded’.
‘Previously, the majority of the testimonies were about the concentration camp detention. However, prison sentences are more common at the moment. There are also incidents of forced labor migration to inner land China, and it seems to be an increasing trend’.
‘Currently, 4500 missing persons’ reports are collected in the database’, Omar concluded his remarks.
From UTJD website
Against all odds, Uighurs in the diaspora are resilient and hopeful. Gheni hopes to see the day when his family is freed from the concentration camps and Uighur people peacefully living in their lawful land East Turkistan.
Atawulla felt hopeful after the first round passing of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act in the United States Congress and the international exposure of the China Cables. Despite the fact that Atawulla could face retaliation from the Chinese government, he will continue his activism and encourage people to shed more light on the plight of Uighurs.
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