Jared Soares/The New York Times

Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer, 74, holds a framed photo of her imprisoned son at her home in Fairfax, Va., on May 28, 2021. She is just one of many displaced by the Uyghur genocide.

March 16, 2022

GUEST ROOM | You Must Raise Awareness of the Uyghur Genocide

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Content warning: Mention of graphic sexual abuse, torture and genocide.

This article is a plea to all faculty, staff and students: Read this whole article. 

Consider that passivity is complicity. While one humanitarian crisis explodes in Eastern Europe with media coverage and a rightful rally to aid, we must not forget the millions of people who are suffering at the hand of similar tyranny and are not receiving the same support as the Ukrainians in need. 

The Uyghurs are an ethnic minority whose religion undermines the complete power of the Chinese government. The Chinese government, no longer able to deny the existence of massive facilities which detain around two million Uyghur, Kazahk and other ethnic minority people, claim that these facilities are for vocational and educational training. Accounts of torture and abuse in these facilities follow years of intentional cultural destruction. As a granddaughter of a Holocaust survivior — and as a human being — it is my duty to remind you of yours. 

This article is a plea for you to learn.

If you missed the talk on March 7, concentration camp survivor Tursunay Ziyawudun said that the March 8 holiday International Women’s Day is a “day of grief” for the Uyghur women. Her one story alone shows the enormous women’s and human rights violations occurring every day. Rizwangul NurMuhammed ’22, MPA student — affected by her own innocent brother’s arrest and disappearance in Xinjiang — translated every word for Ziyawudun, who spoke with a profound grief which required no translation to understand. When Ziyawudun pleaded for mercy from her torture, she was beat to the point of needing to go to the hospital. At the hospital, Ziyawudun saw men who had been tortured, with fingernails and fingers removed. There, she learned that policemen put metal machines on the men’s penises and gave them medicine to weaken their kidneys. Ziyawudun said that it was clear the men had it even worse. They were told not to expect any outside help. The Uyghurs were told that the world will be one big China. 

“I want the sympathy and care for Uyghurs,” Ziyawudun said. “There is a danger to the whole world from the Chinese government. I will fight China until my last breath. We have been seeing how the Ukrainians are fighting for their own rights, the Uyghur must fight back.”

Right now, there is a mother being raped in a concentration camp. There is probably a room full of mothers and daughters and sisters, all being raped and beaten at the same time. How many have had to undergo forced sterilization? There is a student being beaten and tortured as I write. There is a former teacher being penetrated by a taser. I urge you to read and contemplate the cited articles for those who have been lost, for those whose bodily and religious autonomy are stolen every moment in the camps. There is a reason that women are being systematically raped and sterilized, their husbands and fathers killed and their organs harvested for the black market. This is a new era, too, of medical abuse

This article is a plea to remember the victims who, if given a reason, are typically arrested for traveling, teaching, studying and praying. The following are some names to honor their passing or imprisonment. The Xinjiang Victims Database receives submissions from family, friends and coworkers of those detained. They have over 26,000 entries and have a paid staff made possible by this GoFundMe

The Xinjiang Victims Database writes that “persistently spotlighting the particular individuals and stating precisely who they are is much more likely to protect those people than to do them harm.” I urge you to scroll through @uyghur_victims to see their names and faces. 

In April 2017, 55 year-old Ayshem Elim was arrested for traveling to Egypt to see her grandchild. She is serving a 11 year sentence. (Ziyawudun was arrested for traveling to Kazakhstan.)

50 year-old Abdureshid Obul died in 2020 while serving an eight-year prison sentence for avoiding the forced abortion of his son.

59 year-old imam Qeyimahun Qari was imprisoned at 59, healthy, and his dead body was returned to his family two years later.

78 year-old grandmother Helchem Pazil from Korla city is enduring a 17-year prison sentence. 

78 year-old Ehet Aman died in a death camp in 2019. He was a middle school principal and language teacher. 

Polat Ibrahim died 10 days after returning home from a concentration camp due to severe torture. After his body was returned to his family, they, too, were sent to camps

58 year-old Abduhelil Hashim died in “New Prison” in Kunes County’s Bestope Village. 

The Chinese government seeks to erase ethnicities which do not align with the ideal image of a Han majority. This is a Holocaust. Will you speak for the oppressed? Do you not care because the horror is so graphic? Or is it, white readers especially, because most of the Uyghur people do not look like you, as the Ukrainians do?

This article is a plea to realize why the Uyghurs stand almost alone.

“The Chinese government is deceiving the world,” said Ziyawudun in her talk. The U.N. has heard her story. The Chinese government is one of the largest contributors to the U.N. budget — a development from 2018. “I haven’t gotten any practical or specific help from the U.N.,” Ziyawudun said. The Uyghur people are frustrated with the lack of international support. As long as the Chinese Community Party has its grip on the U.N., there will be little support from them. 

New research shows that the Uyghur people are surveilled and threatened by the Chinese government in 22 different countries. There is also a database for international repression of Uyghurs which China’s Global Times has since denounced. In the same article, The Global Times called Ziyawudun a liar because she “does not have any record of undergoing sterilization surgery.”

“I call all of you who stand for justice to support us in any way possible to stand against China,” Ziyawudun said. She argued that the socio-political pressure from the U.S. may have impacted the government’s willingness to continue mass torture. Ziyawudun said there are many families who need to be reunited, which is a concrete place where foreigners can help. Children, similar to anti-Indigenous American and Canadian boarding schools of the previous century, are being sent away from their families to assimilate in the “Pomegranate Flower Plan.” We must condemn this.

This article is a plea to make a change. 

An article from The Guardian expresses that even from Muslim-majority countries, there is little being done to prevent concentration camps from becoming full-blown death camps: “More than 70 nations have accepted development funds from China as part of its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. Indebtedness creates silence.” For tech equipment — especially for 5G services — we rely on China, whose government controls the economy. The concentration camps are more profitable than those my ancestors perished in. 

Ultimately, this is a plea to Cornell University and our connected communities. Cornell, how can you justify having a program in Beijing? How can you justify not addressing the 40 Chinese Cornell students booing NurMuhammed? Her freedom of expression is at risk. I’m glad we have the Ukraine flag up in Klarman; now we must also recognize the Uyghur genocide with the same compassion and visible support. Take action with the Uyghur Human Rights Project. Share this article. 

Correction: This article originally misspelled the “Xinjiang Victims Database” as the “Xianjing Victims Database.”

Emma “ED” Plowe is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. She served as Arts & Culture Editor on the 138th and 139th boards. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Rooms run periodically throughout the semester.