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Uighurs pressure China to prove missing relatives are alive

Malaysiakini  |  Published:  |  Modified:

Members of China’s ethnic Uighur community have launched a global social media campaign demanding that China show video footage proving that their missing relatives are alive.

According to reports by AFP, the community is countering Beijing's use of video to dispel claims that a Uighur poet and musician Abdurehim Heyit died while in custody.

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

The video surfaced to rebut Turkey’s claims that Heyit had died in a Chinese prison.

The Turkish government, on Saturday, had rebuked China for forcing large numbers of the Muslim minority Uighurs into "re-education" camps in the country's remote northwestern Xinjiang region.

Calling it a “great cause of shame for humanity,” Turkey said it had learned that Heyit died serving an eight-year prison sentence over one of his songs.

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

He said his own parents were released from detention last year.

The hashtag elicited responses from around the world with Uighurs holding pictures of missing family members or friends.

According to AFP, a United Nations panel of experts says nearly one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking minorities are being held in detention camps in Xinjiang, where most of China's more than 10 million Uighurs live.

Amnesty International researcher Patrick Poon said “These people are ordinary people. The Chinese government simply can't claim that they are all extremists or terrorists.”

Overseas Uighurs have not been able to contact relatives and friends in China for years as phone calls and messaging platforms are under close Chinese surveillance

Beijing at first denied the allegation, but later said it has put people into "vocational education centres".

China claims that unrest in Xinjiang is committed by an organised "terrorist" movement that seeks the region's independence, but many Uighurs and experts on the region maintain that Beijing plays up terrorism charges to justify its control of the resource-rich region.

Beijing said that the Turkish criticisms were “vile”, and that Turkey should have a proper understanding of the legal efforts made by China to fight terrorism and extremism within its borders effectively.

Reuters reported on Monday that Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Turkey’s claim was based on an absurd lie and such a move was "extremely wrong and irresponsible."

The Chinese embassy in Ankara also issued an advisory warning residents and tourists travelling to Turkey to “be wary and pay attention to their personal safety”.

In a commentary in China’s official Xinhua media on Wednesday, Li Laifang said it was China’s duty to “expose the absurdness of those egregious remarks, distortions and baseless accusations” by Turkey.

The writer said that “Xinjiang has made notable progress in its fight against terrorism, separatism and extremism,” citing thousands of violent terrorist attacks in Xinjiang since the 1990s, which has resulted in massive casualties.

Li touted the success of the vocational education training centres in combatting extremism, saying, “these moves have significantly improved people's sense of security and happiness, while security-related cases have decreased substantially in the Xinjiang region.

The writer cited income growth of between 6.5-8.4 percent and the fact that Xinjiang hosted 150 million tourists last year, up 40 percent from 2017 as further proof of its enhanced security and stability.

Li also took a swipe at Turkey’s own battle against the terrorist threat of Islamic State militants and urged the Erdogan administration to correctly view and understand China's policy and efforts.

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