"Show me that they are alive!” was the rallying cry of members of the Uighur diaspora who, on February 11, launched a campaign calling on China to offer proof that their disappeared loved ones were still alive. China is thought to have sent more than a million members of this Turkish-speaking, Muslim minority group to “re-education camps” in the region of Xinjiang. In the past few days, Uighurs living all over the world have flooded social media with photos of missing friends and relatives.
This campaign was launched shortly after Turkish media outlets announced on February 9 that a famous Uighur singer named Abdurehim Heyit had died in a Chinese detention camp. On its website, the newspaper Yeni Safak said that the artist, who had been detained since 2017, had been given an eight-year sentence for writing a song that angered the Chinese authorities.
In Turkey, home to many Uighur refugees, the Minister of Foreign Affairs called China’s treatment of the Uighurs a "shame for humanity".
China, for its part, fervently denied the musician’s death. That Sunday, China Radio International, a state-owned international broadcaster, tweeted a video of a man said to be Abdurehim Heyit who looked to be in good health.
"My father has been missing for 11 months”
While discussions were popping up online debating the authenticity of that video, a Uighur living in Finland, Halmurat Harri, began to call on China to provide proof that the “millions of other detainees” were also alive. In a tweet posted on February 11, he called on other Uighurs to do the same, using the hashtag #MeTooUyghur.
The next day Harri posted another tweet with photos of the missing and the caption “Where are these #Uyghur intellectuals?”
Dozens of other Uighurs living in the diaspora also posted photos of missing loved ones on social media.
The cousin of Erpat Ablekrem, a 25-year-old professional footballer, posted a photo of Ablekrem, who he said had been sent to a camp in March 2018.
This man and his children are calling on the Chinese government to free their grandfather.
This person is demanding information about his missing brothers and parents from the Chinese government.
Camps meant to 'disappear' Uighurs
The Uighurs population numbers around 10 million. They live in northwestern China, in the region of Xinjiang. This region, which is rich in natural resources, is also located in a strategic location for the Chinese government. President Xi Jinping’s big commercial project is to build a New Silk Road, which he’d like to run through Xinjiang.
After deadly riots in the region in 2009 and a series of attacks attributed to Uighurs, an enormous police presence was moved to Xinjiang and the residents were put under surveillance. According to the World Uyghur Congress, an international organisation for Uighurs in exile, the Chinese government started building what they called re-education camps in April 2017 in an attempt to crack down on this minority.
According to the United Nations, at least a million people are being held in these centres. Torture is commonplace, with reports of some people being waterboarded. The prisoners are also forced to sing patriotic songs and learn Chinese to the detriment of Uighur [which resembles Turkish and is written with the Arabic alphabet]. The Chinese government has refuted accusations of torture, instead claiming that these are professional training centres to combat radical Islam.
This article was written by Maëva Poulet (@maevaplt).