Uyghurs launch silent campaign to demand more international attention on the persecution in Xinjiang
Over the last few months, the COVID19 pandemic has been at the center of the global attention, as the number of confirmed cases continue to rise across the world. In order to redirect the global attention back to the plight of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the Uyghur diaspora launched an international campaign called “#HearUyghurs” across social media platforms, hoping to keep the issue of China’s persecution of the Uyghurs in international spotlight.
As the coronavirus continues to spread across the world, overseas Uyghurs remain concerned about the situation in Xinjiang. On top of that, they worry as the pandemic continues to occupy the global spotlight, the international community will forget about the mass-internment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. To prevent the issue from slipping through the international agenda, dozens of Uyghurs around the world initiated a global campaign to raise awareness about China’s persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Arsland Hidayat, a Uyghur activist based in Australia, kicked off a campaign called “#HearUyghurs” on April 17. He called on overseas Uyghurs to upload video testimonies of their missing family members to social media platforms like Twitter, but the only difference is that these videos are silent.
So far, at least 20 Uyghurs in different parts of the world have joined the initiative. Hidayat said that Uyghurs will be silent in these videos, but they will use their body language to share their concerns about their family members’ situation with the world.
“It was like a message in a bottle: they shared something on a Chinese social-media platform, hoping that someone would be able to pick up their message from the other side,” Hidayat said. “We’re doing the same thing.”
Hidayat argues that Uyghurs have long been playing by the rules set by international organizations like the UN, yet with the recent appointment of China to the UN Human Rights Council, Hidayat thinks the international community has ignored Uyghurs’ calls for help.
“The international community say they hear us, but through their actions, they are supporting China in all that they do against the Uyghurs,” Hidayat said.
Omer Kanat, the Executive Director of DC-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, said while he applauds world leaders who have stood up for the Uyghurs, he thinks the international community’s response to the ongoing persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang remains insufficient.
“The #HearUyghurs campaign sends a powerful message that Uyghurs around the world demand answers, and that they refuse to accept silence and inaction,” Kanat said.
Information from Xinjiang remains scarce
Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Uyghurs abroad have been trying to collect accurate information about the situation in Xinjiang. However, under strict surveillance, it remains difficult for them to form a complete understanding about the impact of the outbreak on the region.
Dr. Elise Anderson, Senior Program Officer for Research and Advocacy at UHRP, said since January, activists in the Uyghur diaspora community started using different hashtags to demand an independent investigation of the situation in the re-education camps in Xinjiang.
“I think we should remember that the camps are only one aspect of China’s multi-pronged campaign of repression in the Uyghur Region,” said Anderson. “We should also be asking about what’s happening in prisons, where many of the formerly interned have been sent after secret trials, and about what the real on-the-ground situation is for people all across the Uyghur Region.”
Anderson pointed out that the lack of information raises general suspicion towards Xinjiang’s COVID19 data released by the Chinese government. Additionally, UHRP has collected information on Chinese social media platforms since the outbreak started, and some videos and blog posts seem to be suggesting that Uyghurs are subject to inhumane quarantines, leaving them with insufficient amount of food and starving.
“In March and April, we also saw evidence suggesting that China sent Uyghur forced laborers back to work in factories — even as they shut down entire cities across the country,” Anderson said. “We also know that the region has more or less opened up for normal educational, business, and other activity. However, we don’t know much about the on-the-ground impacts.”
Anderson says that Uyghurs’ plight is intimately connected to the COVID19 pandemic, and the #HearUyghurs campaign can play an important role in reminding the world that China has not stopped oppressing the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
“I think it can bring much-needed attention back to this issue so long as people are willing to hear Uyghurs, to really listen to what they’re saying,” Anderson said. “Their message is clear: Uyghurs voices are falling on deaf ears. Uyghurs want members of the international community to listen and take meaningful action.”
This article first appeared in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.