Global campaign pressures China to clarify fate of 'missing' Uighur Muslims

Global campaign pressures China to clarify fate of 'missing' Uighur Muslims
3 min read
13 February, 2019
Using hashtag #MeTooUyghur, families of detained Uighur Muslims have demanded that Chinese authorities show proof that their loved ones are alive.
Uighur Muslims have started an online #MetooUyghur campaign [AFP]

Uighurs Muslims have launched a global campaign to press China for video proof that their missing relatives are alive, turning the tables on Beijing's use of video to counter claims that a renowned Uighur had died in custody.

The social media campaign was launched Tuesday under the hashtag #MeTooUyghur after China released a video of a man who identified himself as Uighur poet and musician Abdurehim Heyit saying he was alive and well.

That video was made public to rebut Turkey's claim that he had died in a Chinese prison, which Ankara made in a broader statement condemning China for herding vast numbers of Muslim minority Uighurs into "re-education" camps in the country's remote northwestern Xinjiang region.

Under the hashtag, posts from around the world show Uighurs holding pictures of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters or friends missing in Xinjiang.

"Chinese authorities showed video as proof Mr Heyit is still alive. Now, we want to know, where are millions of Uyghurs?" said Halmurat Harri, a Finland-based Uighur activist, who created the hashtag.

He said his own parents were detained previously but released last year.

The hashtag -- along with its Uighur-language version #Menmuuyghur -- has been used hundreds of times on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which are blocked in China.

It was not seen on China's own heavily censored social media platforms.

A UN panel of experts says nearly one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking minorities are being held in extrajudicial detention in camps in Xinjiang, where most of China's more than 10 million Uighurs live.

Beijing at first denied the allegation, but later admitted putting put people into "vocational education centres".

Arslan Hidayat, son-in-law of prominent Uighur comedian Adil Mijit, posted a Facebook video saying his father-in-law was missing and calling for a "proof of life video" for him and others "who have been locked up in Chinese concentration camps".

Xinjiang has long suffered from violent unrest, which China claims is orchestrated by an organised "terrorist" movement seeking the region's independence. It has implemented a massive, high-tech security crackdown in recent years.

But many Uighurs and Xinjiang experts say the violent episodes stem largely from spontaneous outbursts of anger at Chinese cultural and religious repression, and that Beijing plays up terrorism to justify tight control of the resource-rich region.

Critics allege Uighurs in the camps are being brainwashed in a massive campaign to enforce conformity with Chinese society and the abandonment of Islam.

Ordinary voices

Abdul Mukaddes said his cousin Erpat Ablekrem, a professional football player, has been missing since last March and that if China responds by releasing further videos it would prove they were "illegally holding people for months or years" without charge.

Xinjiang's regional government, which Chinese state media said released the original Heyit video, did not respond to a request for comment about the social media campaign.

Patrick Poon, a researcher at Amnesty International, said the movement gives worried Uighurs a rare outlet while undercutting China's terrorism assertions.

"These people are ordinary people. The Chinese government simply can't claim that they are all extremists or terrorists," Poon said.

It also adds pressure on the world community to speak out, he said.

The Muslim world in particular has been conspicuously quiet, possibly to avoid Chinese diplomatic or economic retaliation.

Turkey's statement on Saturday was perhaps the strongest yet by any country, calling China's treatment of Uighurs "a great cause of shame for humanity".

Turkey also said it had learned that Heyit died serving an eight-year prison sentence "over one of his songs", but China rejected that on Monday, pointing to the video released by Xinjiang and calling the Turkish statement "vile".