Monaco (AsiaNews) – Dolkun Isa, president of the Uyghur World Congress, which is based in Munich (Germany), is a Uyghur leader living in exile. His people, who are predominantly Muslim, live in Xinjiang, a province on the border of China with Central Asia.
“Not only are Uyghurs controlled by China at home, but they are also harassed in exile,” Isa told AsiaNews. This, he knows, comes from personal experience.
Isa fled China in 1997, but on 26 July 2017 he was detained by a special unit of the Italian police as he made his way to a press conference at the Italian Senate in Rome to speak about Chinese repression against the Uyghur community.
“They (Chinese authorities) try to monitor all Uyghurs – sometimes directly – especially activists,” he explained. “They say not to try any kind of political activity. They say: ‘If you try to engage in one of these activities, remember your parents and relatives in Xinjiang’.”
“Family members are held hostage to convince Uyghurs living abroad – especially students – to return to China. And if they do not return on schedule, the Chinese government keeps their families hostage. They force parents to call their sons or daughters to tell them to come back.”
Once back in China, people are sent to re-education camps, “which are more like concentration camps,” Isa noted. Last December for example, two young Uyghurs men detained upon their return died in suspicious circumstances.
At present, nothing is known about some 20 Uyghurs students held for months. More than 200 have been detained since 4 July, seized in restaurants, at home, or at the airport as they tried to leave for safer places.
The relatives of Uyghurs living abroad or who have lived abroad have also been sent to “re-education camps”.
“As for my family – with whom I have no contact –, I have a father who is almost 90. I do not know if he is alive or dead. I know that my older and younger brothers have been arrested and sent to a re-education camp. I do not know how many other relatives are detained.”
“This is my personal story,” but “All Uyghurs living abroad have at least one or more family members in re-education camps.”
For the Uyghur leader, European countries, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union have a responsibility to condemn human rights violations in China and the persecution of Xinjiang Uyghurs.
Oppression, for the latter, occurs in everyday life, from the ban on giving an Islamic name to children, to hardships imposed during the last Ramadan.
“Many [countries] seek economic agreements with China and their silence about this situation sends the wrong message to the Chinese government, which is encouraged in what it does.”
International media too should do more. Some cover events “but that is not enough. The situation is terrible. If the world continues to remain silent, it may worsen, even to the point of genocide. The world should stand up and do something.”