‘China must close the camps. Release all prisoners. Stop all forced labour, sterilisation and organ harvesting. Restore our religious and cultural freedoms.’
My name is Rahima Mahmut, I was born in Ghulja, in the north of what was East Turkistan.
On February 5 1997, people in my home town took to the streets protesting against the government’s discriminating policies against Uighur people, demanding religious and cultural freedom and equality. As usual, the government crushed the peaceful demonstrators with military force where hundreds were killed and thousands arrested, followed by mass executions.
I was visiting my mother and family with my son and I witnessed how the military and police terrorised the whole city, searching homes and arresting innocent people. It was heart-breaking to witness the helplessness and despair felt by my people. Many of my relatives and family friends were arrested and later sentenced to long prison terms.
I came to the UK in 2000 to study and have lived here ever since. For the last 20 years, I have been unable to return to see my family and my beloved homeland because of my involvements in speaking out against the human rights violations imposed on my people by the Chinese government. My last contact with my brother was in January 2017 and he said: “Please leave us to God’s hand, we leave you to God’s hand too.” He indirectly told me not to contact them anymore. I don’t know how they are, if they are safe or interned in concentration camps.
Not long after I spoke to my brother, news about the mass detention of people and the placing them into so-called re-education camps started to emerge.
We believe that there are possibly 3 million people held in the camps. One intellectual who managed to flee the country revealed that people are sometimes kept in detention for over a year before being moved to a re-education camp. He said that the place of detention was a nightmare. During his three month detention he was tortured daily. Sixty people were crowded into a 60 square meter cell. His worst humiliation was to have to strip off his clothes in front of everyone else and to walk in a circle in view of the camera, and this was repeated by everyone else every night. And every day when the siren sounded, all prisoners in the room had to dive on top of each other and remain there until the siren stopped. Sometimes this could last 30 minutes.
At the end of June, the full genocidal extent of China’s persecution was revealed by research based on local government documents: a programme of forced sterilisation targeting at least 80 per cent of Uighur women of childbearing age. Those who refuse are threatened with incarceration in concentration camps.
I was horrified when a Chinese official was asked whether he felt Uighur’s human rights were being violated. He responded by saying, “They don’t have human rights. It is not about violations, they just don’t have human rights.”
So what can you do to help my people?
Write to your MP, downloading our letter from the World Uighur Congress’s website.
Do not buy from companies using Uighur Slave Labour until they move their supply chains.
Sign on-line petitions to the International Olympic Committee to remove the Winter Olympics 2022 from Beijing.
If you are a company, consider moving your supply chains from China to avoid contamination with slave labour.
China must close the camps. Release all prisoners. Stop all forced labour, sterilisation and organ harvesting. Restore our constitutionally guaranteed religious and cultural freedoms.
And allow Uighur people abroad, like myself, to speak to our families once again, and break the unbearable silence of years.