Uyghurs prisoners in Xinjiang are forced to speak in Mandarin and perform obvious displays of subservience to their Chinese guards in monthly video calls with relatives, Uyghurs living in exile say, a report said.
A Uyghur now living in Europe told RFA that her siblings in Sanji Prison in the town of Sanji (in Chinese, Changji) were recently allowed to meet online with other relatives in Aksu (Akesu). Though neither the jailed Uyghurs nor their family members could speak Chinese well, authorities made them communicate in Mandarin for the entire meeting.
"They barely managed to speak in Chinese, according to my relatives who met them onscreen," the source said. "This is not just an isolated incident."
Chinese authorities have banned the use of the Uyghur language in schools and government complexes as part of their efforts to diminish the culture and traditions of the largely Muslim community, RFA reported.
But Uyghur families still speak their native tongue inside their homes. The prohibition from doing so on the monthly virtual visits adds a level of frustration for family members who are already anxious about their loved ones' well-being.
Another Uyghur exile living in Turkey told RFA that her nephew, who was serving a sentence in a prison in Urumqi (Wulumuqi), was forced to speak Chinese to his mother and grandmother, though the latter had to rely on another relative to translate because she did not know Mandarin.
"They allowed them to meet onscreen once every few months for only three minutes," the source said. "My mother was there once to meet onscreen with my nephew. My mother was very uncomfortable hearing my nephew speaking to them in Chinese. My nephew's wife fainted at the time, hearing him speak only in Chinese."
"On-screen, my nephew had to bow while walking backward saying goodbye in traditional Chinese fashion," she added. "He also had kowtow to the Chinese police for giving him the chance to see his relatives onscreen."
Tahir Mutallip Qahiri, a Uyghur Muslim lecturer in the Uyghur language and literature at the University of G�ttingen in Germany, said he noticed a difference in the way his detained father interacted with him during a video call.
His father, well-known Uyghur scholar and activist Mutallib Siddiq Qahiri, used to work at Kashgar University and wrote and edited more than 20 books on Uyghur and Arabic culture until he was arrested in 2018 and charged with "incitement to ethnic hatred," according to a September 2020 article in the Byline Times, In early 2020, authorities sentenced him to 30 months in prison with four years of probation.
Tahir said he was able to see his father after he was released from detention, but that the man "was not as free as the Uyghur prisoners who recently had spoken with their relatives onscreen."
Although the two spoke Uyghur to one another, Tahir said he believed his father was under surveillance by authorities because he told his son to remain silent and to defend the Chinese state, RFA reported.