After football star Mesut Özil dared to protest, Beijing has launched a new offensive to persuade the world that Uyghurs are not persecuted. These are just more fake news.
by Ruth Ingram
Then they came for Eziz
“Why are mummy and daddy crying?” asked Eziz’s bewildered children to each other last week, as their parents embraced one last time. Then, Eziz was marched out of the door of their home, for a reason and destination yet to be divulged to his grieving wife and distraught children.
Having escaped the first cull of one and a half million of his countrymen, which began in earnest once the draconian subduer of Tibet, Chen Quanguo, took the helm of Xinjiang in August 2017, Eziz had managed to remain under the radar for two and a half years. Like most Uyghurs, he has always been grateful that the knock on the door in the middle of the night came not for him but for neighbors down the corridor. Keeping his head down and not straying far from home, he has lived on tenterhooks, in fear and apprehension, watching the reign of terror from a distance as friends and relatives disappeared, some completely.
But the bell finally tolled for him last Tuesday at dawn, when five men banged on the door and marched uninvited into his home. With no explanation, they demanded he come with them. The “fact” that all Uyghurs have now graduated from their “voluntary” camps, according to Xinjiang governor Shohrat Zakir speaking at a press conference only the day before Eziz’s arrest, seemed to have been completely lost on the gang of policemen peering in through the entrance of their house. Remonstrations would have made things worse for everyone, so he went quietly.
He had no choice. He has not been heard from since. He is a Uyghur, but does not even identify as Muslim. He is certainly not a jihadist and has not been involved in illegal activities. He is a quiet, law-abiding family man who goes out to work each day to support his children. But the current regime of random arrests, incarcerations and illegal detention knows no reason. It is a law unto itself and accountable to no one.
A football star speaks out
Beijing’s recent outrage after more than 400 leaked documents were spirited out of its inner sanctum detailing the rationale behind the network of internment camps, has stretched credulity, calling them “malicious smears and distortions.” Lashing out at international criticism, Beijing has defended its benevolent plan to “remold and transform criminals” and brands as “fake news” anything that suggests otherwise. The furore caused by Mesut Özil, the Arsenal footballer, this week is a case in point. The German Muslim who is of Turkish heritage, by condemning China’s detention of Uyghurs on social media, unleashed a whirlwind of retaliation from Beijing and Chinese fans rushed to delete him from their accounts. Fans that presumably, like most Han Chinese throughout China, have never been to Xinjiang, seen a Uyghur other than one singing or dancing on TV, and have simply relied on Beijing-controlled media for their information. Özil was supported on Twitter by the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but his club, Arsenal, has been quick to disassociate itself from his comments. The lucrative Chinese market is more important than principles for many companies, and football clubs are no exception.
A common plea repeated by Chinese journalists working for the State media organization Xinhua, is for reporters to come to Xinjiang and see for themselves. Already this year more than 1000 people from over 90 countries and regions have visited facilities introduced to them as part of the infamous transformation through education camps, where a smorgasbord of prepared speeches and national dancing awaited them. As if interviewing detainees through a government translator, and listening to boisterous renditions of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands,” would fool anyone anxious to discover the truth…
Reading between the lines the inmates are forced to regurgitate in faltering Mandarin, on pain of worse punishment if they put a foot wrong, the lie is spread by the State that there is no restriction or deprivation of personal freedom and that their rights are fully protected. This is a blatant smokescreen, and one that those wrenched from their homes in the early hours by machine-gun toting officers, hooded and manacled and admitted to these very same camps for an indefinite period, would understand only too well.
Criticism of Beijing produces a flood of “hurt feelings” and justifications that the camps are necessary to restore peace to the troubled province. In fact the government goes so far as to recommend their methods to other countries for dealing with wayward troublemakers.
Manipulating Han Chinese
The rhetoric flies in all directions. Speak to many Han Chinese in the province and they will praise the government’s efforts at achieving harmony and peace. A Han student writing on her social media recently from Xinjiang had just finished watching the two videos released by CGTN (China Global Television Network) last week. The documentaries, which give the impression that the province is literally at war, sucked this PhD student completely into unquestioningly backing her government’s illegal incarceration of several million Uyghurs as a preventative strategy. Packed with bomb blasts and vicious knife attacks every few seconds and giving the impression that jihadists in army fatigues running rampage through the streets is an ongoing daily occurrence, Beijing’s media department has gone all out to sow seeds of trust in those who have never lived there, that all is well now the CCP has taken a firm hand.
This student has seen many of her Uyghur friends disappear, but can forgive her government anything so that this land that she loves, “full of kind and simple people” can enjoy harmony. She accepts that social transformation will not be easy and might in some cases cause severe pain, but she finishes her post by proclaiming: “Never mind! Let’s bear it! Come on!”
But Melissa, her English name, and all the Han Chinese armchair advocates of Beijing’s extra judicial oppression, will never be victims of that pain that she so eagerly advocates for others.
But the CCP cannot hide the truth
I flick through my WeChat contacts regularly. I see the beloved writer and folklore compiler Rahile Dawut’s photo gazing up a spiral staircase, unchanged for two years since she disappeared. Our last correspondence to meet for coffee, is suspended in time, unanswered. I search for signs of life from a book seller friend whose last posts from May 2017 hang in limbo. A young man, self taught poet and academic, was snatched only to disappear into the labyrinthine network of camps and his son into a state run orphanage. Some friends dare to write, obliquely and cryptically. Some are enjoying a limited freedom after their camp experiences. Some are in government factories on five year contracts. Some, reading between the lines, are counting the days until they are reunited with loved ones. 1,356 days and counting, went one post, of course giving no specifics.
There are too many to count who have deleted me completely and others whose posts just contain endless advert for cosmetics and food they are trying to sell.
“US lies will crumble in front of facts and truth,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang back in September at a side meeting of the UN.
But in the lives of the ones and two’s, the tens and the twenties, all I see around me are the “facts and truth” of another story unfolding before our eyes and the “lies” of the CCP. Lies I am sure Eziz and his family will attest to with all their hearts.
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Author: Ruth Ingram