By James Moules
A PROMINENT Uyghur activist is calling on the world to help stand up for the rights of her people as they continue to face “pain and humiliation” in their homeland.
A recent study found evidence that Uyghurs in China are being subjugated to large-scale forced labour in cotton fields by the Chinese authorities.
The Uyghurs are a mostly Muslim ethnic minority in China, most of whom reside in the country’s westernmost region of Xinjiang.
Since 2017, reports have found evidence that more than one million Uyghurs have been arbitrarily incarcerated in internment camps and subjected to mass human right abuses including forced sterilisations. The Chinese government claims they are re-education facilities.
Redaction Politics spoke to Rahima Mahmut, a Uyghur who fled China in 2000 following the brutal repression of her people. She now resides in Britain, where she is a project director for the UK branch of the World Uyghur Congress.
She said: “The Uyghur have no right to negotiate or to reason. They became like cattle.
“It’s unbearable when I think of what is happening to my people. It’s unbearable for me to imagine the pain and humiliation. And also what hurts most is this silence – despite all the evidence, report after report, still the world is not acting.”
Xinjiang, which is known to the Uyghur people as East Turkestan, is officially known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. But Rahima said that this nominal autonomy has not been exercised.
She said: “That land is our historical land. We didn’t take it from China, they occupied the region. Uyghurs accepted the Uyghur autonomous region when it was declared. Uyghurs believed that was self determination, but that was never honoured.”
The Chinese Embassy in the UK was contacted for comment.
After fleeing China, Rahima was initially able to contact her family, but from 2017 – the year the mass incarceration programme is said to have started – they began to cease contact. She finally managed to make contact with her brother, who told her to “leave us in God’s hands.”
She still does not know what happened to her family.
Rahima praised the solidarity displayed by the Jewish community in the UK and USA towards the Uyghur people.
“At the moment, if you ask me which community is helping most, and voicing this issue most, it’s the Jewish community – whether it’s in the US or this country,” she said.
Ephraim Mirvis, the British Chief Rabbi, recently penned an article for The Guardian in which he called for action to help the Uyghur people. He wrote: “At this very moment, an unfathomable mass atrocity is being perpetrated. Though the task is great, none of us are free to desist from it.”
Rahima said: “Image how it happened – the Holocaust. It didn’t happen overnight. There were so many signs out there that this population was targeted and discriminated and humiliated.
“I think that is why the Jewish community got the message so quickly and didn’t hesitate.”
She is now calling for the UK government to pressure the UN recognise the treatment of Uyghurs by China as a genocide and to sanction responsible Chinese officials under the Magnitsky Act – and asks British people to write to their MPs.
“This is a cause that people should join,” she said. “You shouldn’t think ‘what can I do? This is too big for me.’ Nothing is too big or too small. When you have more people join, I believe we can move mountains.”
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