By James Moules
“WE thought in the beginning maybe the crackdown will last about several months or a year or two years. But now we know this is not going to end.
“It looks like the intention is very clear – it’s ethnic cleansing.”
Rahima Mahmut left her homeland in the China’s westernmost region of Xinjiang 20 years ago amid the brutal repression of her people – the Uyghurs.
A mostly Muslim people who almost entirely reside in Xinjiang (known to them as East Turkestan), the Uyghurs have been the victims of mass human rights violations by the Chinese state – with as many as one million are estimated to have been incarcerated in camps since 2017.
Speaking at an event hosted by the UK’s Jewish Labour Movement, Rahima shared her experience of fleeing from the region and recounted the horrors that the Uyghurs face in China today.
“I left my country in 2000 after witnessing the 1997 Ghulja Massacre,” she said. “It was on the fifth of February – two thousand of the Uyghur, mainly young people, took to the street peacefully demanding cultural and religious freedom.”
The protest was crushed by the Chinese authorities and numerous Uyghurs were killed.
This brutal crackdown prompted Rahima to leave the country.
“I knew the situation was getting worse, but never, never expected that we ended up to be the target – the whole entire Uyghur population – become the target of the CCP. Now we are calling it genocide.”
She left China in the year 2000 to come to the UK as a masters student.
“The was the only way that I could leave the country,” she explained. “I made up my mind that if I ever leave my country then I will speak up, I will campaign, I will tell the truth to the world.
“Since 2000, from the day that I arrived, I never stopped talking. Therefore I was not allowed to go back, to return to my home.”
As a result, she has not been able to go back to her homeland to see her family and her siblings for the past twenty years.
In spite of this, she was still able to contact them for most of this time.
But in 2016, Chen Quanguo was appointed the Party Secretary of Xinjiang – one of the most powerful roles within any Chinese province or territory.
Mr Chen held the same office in Tibet between 2011 and 2016.
Rahima said: “He ruled Tibet as Party Secretary for five years, terrorised the region and implemented policies – assimilative policies – and also security control, surveillance control in Tibet.”
“From that time after his appointment we already knew that things will only get worse,” she added.
At this point, she began to notice that people she know would remove her on social media and stop taking her calls.
“When I called my friends or my family no one would answer the call.”
In January 2017, she eventually managed to get in touch with her eldest brother.
“His voice was very shaky when he spoke to me. And then he said leave us in God’s hands. And that was the last time I spoke to my brother, and up until now I have no information about what happened to all of them, including all my friends.”
It has been estimated by organisations including Amnesty International that as many as one million Uyghurs have been detained in camps since 2017.
China insists that they are vocational “re-education” camps.
But mass human rights violations in Xinjiang have been widely reported – including a recent study by Adrian Zenz which suggested that some women in Xinjiang are facing forced sterilisation.
Rahima said: “From the day Chen Quanguo was appointed to be party secretary, he implemented new rules, new regulations and extra checkpoints for the Uyghurs – so basically turned the whole region into a complete police state.”
Rahima is raising funds to help bring the plight of the Uyghurs into wider public awareness and push for investigations and sanctions.
The Chinese Embassy in the UK was contacted for comment regarding the camps.
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