China pressed to show ‘proof of life’ videos for missing Muslims
Ethnic Uighurs have launched an international 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 launched 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 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.
Turkey said it had learnt that Heyit had died serving an eight-year prison sentence “over one of his songs”.
The hashtag posts from around the world show Uighurs with pictures of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters or friends missing in Xinjiang.
“Chinese authorities showed video as proof Heyit is still alive. Now, we want to know, where are millions of Uighurs?” Finland-based Uighur activist Halmurat Harri, who created the hashtag, said.
The hashtag – and a Uighurlanguage 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 said nearly a million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking minorities were being held in extrajudicial detention in camps in Xinjiang, where most of China’s more than 10-million Uighurs lived.
Beijing at first denied the allegation, but later admitted putting people into “vocational education centres”.
Arslan Hidayat, son-in-law of 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, hi-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 say the Uighurs are being brainwashed in a massive campaign to enforce conformity with Chinese society and the abandonment of Islam.
Abdul Mukaddes said his cousin, Erpat Ablekrem, a professional football player, has been missing since March 2018 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.
Amnesty International researcher Patrick Poon said the hashtag movement gave 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.
The campaign also added pressure on the world community to speak out, he said. –AFP