Nitesh Kumar Sahoo

Thiruvananthapuram: China's persecuted Uyghurs expect India to give up its silence and step in to prevent the "genocide" of the community, unlike other major powers, including Islamic nations, which are silent on the issue, a leading Uyghur leader has said.

Talking to IANS, World Uyghur Congress President Dolkun Isa, who is living in exile in Germany, said that India has a strong influence internationally and should intervene to stop the Uyghur genocide.

Detailing the repression the Uyghurs are facing in their East Turkestan homeland, especially in the "education centres" set up by the Chinese government, he cited India's approach to the Tibetan refugees to seek his support for his people.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: You are living a life in exile for the past several years from your mother land. Do you expect one day to be back in your homeland as a free person?

A: I left East Turkistan more than twenty years ago, and it is very painful to see that the situation there has worsened with every year that passed. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that one day, everyone can live free and with dignity in East Turkestan.

Q: There are several media reports that the Uyghur Muslim population are not allowed to even practice their religious beliefs by Communist China, can you elaborate on that?

A: The Chinese government passed several legislations and amendments that has led to near total state control over all aspects of religious practice, including the selection of imams, forcing people to break their fasts during Ramadan and preventing them from undertaking the Hajj, preventing all Uyghur children from any religious activity with parents prevented from any religious teaching, and the deconstruction of thousands of mosques, graveyards and other cultural sites has been consistent in the region.

Q: Many thousands of Uyghar Muslims are reportedly being physically tormented in China. Your take on this?

A: The situation in the internment camps is alarming. Detainees are held in very poor and overcrowded conditions, where they don't have access to adequate medical care. Camp survivors like Mihrigul Tursun and Sayragul Sauytbay witnessed physical and psychological torture. Furthermore, women were forced to get injections or pills, which caused the loss of consciousness and reduction of cognition. Furthermore, the drugs caused the loss of menstruation and extreme bleeding in some women.

Q: Do you feel that even after the atrocities and physical torment of the Chinese government is continuing against the Uyghur minority Muslims, the Islamic world is maintaining a studied silence?

A: The persecution of Uyghurs is one of the most serious instances of religious persecution of Muslims in the world. A majority of Muslim states and leaders have been not only silent on the ongoing Uyghur genocide, but some of them have even supported China openly. It is shameful to see how the Muslim world turns a blind eye to the persecution of millions of their brothers and sisters. It is time for the Muslim world to break the silence and to take actions to stop the genocide before it is to late.

Q: It is learnt that there are several re-education centres in China for providing vocational training for Uyghur Muslims. What exactly do these centres do?

A: The living conditions in the camps are draconian. Torture, rape, forced sterilisation and death are the constant companions of the detainees. The aim of the Chinese government is clear: to break the people in order to make them serve to the CCP will and to eradicate the Uyghur identity. Therefore, the detainees have to forget anything that is linked to their Uyghur identity.

Inside the camps, detainees are forced to attend indoctrination classes, where they have to learn Mandarin, sing propaganda songs and praise the CCP. These are no 'education centres'.... these are sophisticated instruments of the Uyghur genocide.

According to the leaked Karatax prison list, the CCP mainly targets individuals at birthable age and intellectuals. A report by researcher Adrian Zenz provided further evidence by official Chinese documents that the CCP seeks to achieve a zero growth rate in East Turkestan.

Q: In the recent webinar organised by the Centre for Policy and Development Studies, you said that China has manipulated UN agencies and even Interpol against the Uyghurs. Please elaborate?

A: In recent years, we observe an increasing influence of the Chinese government on international institutions such as the UN. The CCP tried in recent years to hinder the WUC from engaging with the UN procedures. I was denied access to the UN in New York due to pressure from the Chinese government.

In 1997, the Chinese government initiated a red notice at Interpol against me which was removed in February 2018 due to a lack of evidence and the political motivation behind the false claims. Due to this, I was arrested several times while travelling and several travel bans were issued on me because of China's influence. Due to the long arm of the Chinese government, travelling has become risky for me.

Q: Well-known model Marden Gappar had sent a video of him being shackled in Chinese custody. After the video appeared, there is no information on him. Do you have any knowledge on what happened to him?

A: We tried our best to obtain any information on the whereabouts of Marden Gappar. We are highly alarmed since we know how the Chinese government treats brave people who tell the truth.

Q: Even after the brutal crackdown and mowing down of agitating students at Tianmen Square, China continues to hold positions in international bodies including the UN. Please tell us why this is so.

A: During the Tiananmen protest, so many students fighting for freedom and democracy were killed by the Chinese government. Nevertheless, China could even increase its international influence since then. Countries turn a blind eye to the Chinese atrocities because of economic interests, some even set up a coalition. Furthermore, China is the second largest donor to the UN.

Q: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is championing the cause of Muslims globally, Why is the Turkish government silent on your case even after you share the same cultural roots?

A: Uyghurs and the Turkish people have strong ties, since they speak the same language, have the same culture and history. The Turkish government has been silent so far, but some days ago, a government spokesperson finally addressed the Uyghur human rights crisis.

Q: Do you and other leaders of the Uyghur movement like Rushan Abbas feel that your life is under Chinese threat even in countries like Germany and US where you are living, respectively?

A: I can only speak for myself, for now I feel safe in Germany. But, I am travelling a lot, so I do not know what will happen tomorrow.

Q: You have been very vocal on the global companies and development nations to sever economic and business ties with the autocratic Chinese regime. Do you feel that your pleas are being heard?

A: On March 1, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, ASPI, published its report on forced labour and the abusive practices of transferring camp detainees to major factories across China. This report estimates that more than 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred to factories outside of East Turkestan between 2017 and 2019 through labour transfer programs under a government policy known as 'Xinjiang Aid'. Credible reports have indicated that many Uyghurs were sent to forced labour facilities in the Hubei province, the epicenter of the virus, to work in factories as the rest of the province was forced into lockdown.

The use of Uyghur forced labour and mass transfer of Uyghur detainees from internment camps during this pandemic has put thousands of innocent lives at risk.

Nevertheless, most of the companies with ties to forced Uyghurs labours have been shamefully silent. Nevertheless, some of them like H&M, and Norway Oil fund canceled their contracts with suppliers using Uyghur forced labour in their production. But much more must be done.

Q: Even after all the hue and cry that you have managed to raise globally, the coming winter Olympics is being hosted at Beijing. Is this a setback to your fervent appeal to international community?

A: The World Uyghur Congress has continuously worked to challenge the International Olympics Committee's decision to host the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. We have written many letters to the Committee, and submitted a formal written complaint to the Ethics committee, as well as sent joint letters with other groups. We are actively promoting the #NoRightsNoGames campaign since its launch, and will keep on challenging the IOC's decision in different ways.

Q: What will be the effect of a change of regime in the US as a new Government led by Joe Biden is taking over?

A: This year, the Uyghur human right policy act was put into law and the Uyghur forced provo act passed the US Congress. Both were supported by a large majority. We do not expect that any change in the support of the US will happen after Joe Biden assumes office.

Q: What is your appeal to people of India on the Uyghur cause?

A: There has been a strong traditional link between the Indian people and the Uyghurs. We have lived since so many centuries peacefully next to each other. India has also been very welcoming towards Tibetan refugees.

The Uyghur get a lot of support from the Indian people. They are well aware of the atrocities Uyghurs have to face in East Turkestan. Unfortunately, the Indian government has been silent on the Uyghur genocide so far. India has a lot of influence on the international level due to their size and economic power. We expect India to use its influence to stop the Uyghur genocide.

(Arun Lakshman/IANS)