Show us proof: Uygurs appeal to Beijing for videos of missing relatives via #MeTooUyghur
Members of the Uygur Muslim ethnic group are calling on China to post videos of their relatives who have disappeared into a vast system of internment camps.
The social media campaign, launched on Tuesday under the hashtag #MeTooUyghur, follows the release of a state media video showing Uygur musician Abdurehim Heyit, who many believed had died in custody.
“China, show us their videos if they are alive!” Halmurat Harri, a Finland-based Uygur activist, wrote on Twitter. He urged the government to also release videos to prove that others believed detained are in good health amid reports of neglectful and sometimes brutal conditions in the camps.
China has come under increasing scrutiny for the camps holding an estimated 1 million minority Muslims in its far west Xinjiang region. Former detainees who fled overseas say that while they were held captive, they were ordered to renounce their faith and pledge loyalty to the ruling Communist Party through indoctrination tactics reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution.
Beijing, which long denied the existence of such facilities, now says they are vocational training centres where Uygurs, Kazakhs and others receive free skills education. Surveillance cameras, security checkpoints and riot police have become ubiquitous in Xinjiang in recent years, but the government maintains that such measures are necessary to combat separatist violence and latent religious extremism.
In a rare show of public criticism from a majority Muslim nation, Turkey on Saturday called China’s treatment of Uygurs “a great cause of shame for humanity”. Citing reports of Heyit’s death, the Turkish foreign ministry condemned the “concentration camps” and “systematic assimilation” to which Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang are subject.
At a press briefing on Monday, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called Turkey’s statement “a very bad mistake”.
The video of Heyit released by the state outlet China Radio International showed that claims of his death were an “absurd lie”, she said, adding that the renowned musician and poet was being investigated for allegedly endangering national security.
The video shows Heyit in a grey jumper against a nondescript, grey wall. He states his name and gives the date as February 10, 2019, then says that he is in good health and has not been abused.
The authenticity of the video could not be verified and it was not clear where or by whom it had been filmed.
Many Uygurs outside China have said they are unable to contact relatives still in Xinjiang. Fearing that their loved ones have been ensnared by the security dragnet they say they do not even know whether their family members are dead or alive.
The mere act of communicating with someone overseas could spur detention, Uygurs have said, and as a result many of their relatives in China have blocked them on social media. On Twitter, Uygurs abroad posted photos of themselves holding up images of their missing parents, children and siblings.
If they are still alive, the posts said, the Chinese government should release videos of them.