AFTER I LEFT MY homeland in 1994, I never saw my parents again. Although I could sometimes speak to them over the phone, I never met them again in person. Nonetheless, I always lived with the hope that we would one day meet again.
The CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party] assimilationist policies since their occupation of East Turkistan in 1949 failed to assimilate our people. This was why they revised their policies to eradicate my people through genocide. Like millions of other Uyghurs, I too was affected by this genocide.
My parents were becoming old. When we spoke on the phone, we only talked about our health. We knew the Chinese intelligence agencies tapped our phones, so my parents couldn’t tell me about the pressure, intimidation, and other troubles they faced. Sometimes, my mother would sob on the phone, but she would say nothing when I asked what happened. “We’re doing good, don’t worry,” she would say. I couldn’t ask again. Any word from them would become their calamity. It’s been 28 years since I left them.
In 2008, Dr Erkin Sidiq travelled to Aksu from the US, and he visited my parents. He brought back their greetings, photos, and a short video. This was the first time I saw my parents’ faces since I left.
In April 2017, I called my parents. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be my last conversation with them. The call ended after our typical greetings and asking after each other’s well-being. One week later, my wife called them. “Please don’t call us again,” my mom told her. I was shocked to hear this. For the last 24 years, my mother had never said such a thing, even when they faced immense difficulties. My mother was a brave woman. When the Chinese regime listed me on INTERPOL’s Red Notices in 2003, the police came to my family. “We’re going to bring your terrorist son back from Germany and punish him,” they told my parents, intimidating them. “Bring him if you can. Why are you telling me? Do you need my permission?” my mother retorted, without hesitation. Asking us not to call her meant the situation must have become truly horrific.
On June 12, 2018, one of my friends who lived in another country told me the news of my mother, Ayhan Memet’s death. I was devastated. My mother, whom I couldn’t see for 24 years, suddenly passed away, and how and where she died was unknown.
The media was curious to know these details. However, I had no answer, I knew nothing. I tried in vain to communicate with anyone in the homeland who could tell me what happened. My brothers’ phones were all off. I couldn’t contact my friends back home; internet communications were completely restricted.
As per our traditions, I held a Nezir (mourning ceremony) in a hall in Munich on June 18. My friends from Europe, the US and Australia came for the Nezir and consoled me. Those who couldn’t come sent their condolences and phoned me.
MPs of some countries sent special condolences too, including the US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, as well as Ambassador Michael Kozak.
The Chinese regime’s propaganda video uncovered another awful truth. I didn’t know the fate of my father until that time, and learned in the video that he had also died. I still don’t know where and how he died. My father, Isa Memet, was 90 years old. I wonder how many other people live without knowing where the grave of their father is
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Three weeks after the Nezir, Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service published the news of my mother’s death. The reporters at RFA spent more than two weeks researching, and interviewed the police officers and local authorities in Aksu.
They found out that my mother died in a concentration camp. According to the report, she was taken to a camp in either May or June of 2017 and died there on May 17, 2018.
In which camp was my mother locked up? What kind of nightmares had she faced? How did she die? Where is her grave? I never found answers to these questions. My mother was 78 years old when she died. China killed a 78-year-old woman in its concentration camp. This news created a buzz in the media for some time and added to the rage against China.
In January 2020, the Chinese regime published a propaganda video forcing my elder sister Arzugul Isa, my sister-in-law Asiye, and her son Zulpikar to speak against me. The fact that the Chinese regime’s propaganda campaign only started two years after the reports of my mother’s death may have been because my relatives were in concentration camps until then. I got to see some of my relatives whom I hadn’t seen in 26 years in the video. Although they were forced to speak against me, I felt relieved to see them alive. They said in the video, “Our father and mother died of natural causes in their old age, but our brother Dolkun Isa has spread lies claiming they died in concentration camps.” They were forced to say that, there was no other way. It was impossible to refuse the Chinese regime. If you watched the video carefully, you could tell they were reading from a pre-written text. Sadly, this video uncovered another awful truth. I didn’t know the fate of my father until that time, and learned in the video that he had also died. I still don’t know where and how he died. My father, Isa Memet, was 90 years old. I wonder how many other people live without knowing where the grave of their father is, or when and how he died, in the 21st century. Perhaps no one except the Uyghurs face such harsh tragedies.
I knew my younger brother Hushtar Isa was taken away at the beginning of 2016 and has since disappeared. When I visited Japan in April 2019, I learned from a neighbour’s son who was studying in Japan that my elder brother Yalkun Isa was sentenced to 17 years in prison for allegations of separatism. I still don’t have any more details than that. If my brothers Yalkun and Hushtar were alive or weren’t locked up in a concentration camp or prison, the Chinese regime would likely have featured them in their propaganda video, so this told me they weren’t free.
My elder brother Yalkun graduated from the faculty of mathematics at Xinjiang University. He was an intellectual working as a mathematics teacher at Aksu Education Institute since 1984. My younger brother Hushtar graduated from Xi’an Gonglu University. When he was studying English in Beijing in 1998, he was arrested by the Beijing Security Bureau for “inciting a protest against the government.” When he was brought back to Urumchi, they added a charge for “engaging in national separatism” and he was sentenced to two years in prison. Although he was released from prison in 2000, he had to receive medical treatment for a long time. I assume this was because he faced severe physical abuse in prison, though I never had the opportunity to speak to him about it. He disappeared in 2016. Perhaps my brother Hushtar was among those the Chinese regime first took to concentration camps.
As a German citizen, I sent letters to Angela Merkel and the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas several times, asking for their help to learn details about my parents’ deaths and the condition of my other relatives. I also discussed this in my meetings with officials from the German Foreign Ministry and the European External Action Service (EEAS). During my visit to the White House, I met with the Deputy National Security Advisor, Matthew Forbes Pottinger. At the US State Department, I met with Scott Busby, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, David R Stilwell, Assistant Secretary and Rick Waters, Deputy Assistant Secretary. I asked for their help, too. Unfortunately, I still don’t have any information other than the propaganda video of the Chinese regime.
In June 2019, 22 western countries published a joint statement demanding the Chinese government close the camps and allow the UN Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation. In October 2021, 43 countries signed a joint statement condemning the human rights situation regarding Uyghurs
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My entire family was destroyed. It remains unclear today how many of my relatives were sent to prison, concentration camps, how many were transferred to Mainland China, and how many others were sentenced to forced labour.
Millions of East Turkistan’s people have faced the same fate. The purpose of the Chinese regime’s policies is to destroy families by locking up at least one member of the family in prison or a concentration camp. It is in this way that they dismantle family structures, orphan children, and create the hellish, fear-filled lives that dominate in East Turkistan.
IN AUGUST 2018, the CERD [Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination] report announcing the detainment of more than one million Uyghurs drew attention and compassion from the US, the EU, and the Western media. Uyghurs in the diaspora became more active, making testimonies and demanding the whereabouts of their relatives in concentration camps on social media and international media outlets. The Uyghurs were realizing that the concentration camps weren’t a temporary policy, and their relatives wouldn’t be released soon. They became increasingly worried their relatives would disappear in the camps and prisons without a trace.
During this period, under the leadership of the WUC [World Uyghur Congress], the Norwegian Uyghur Committee established the Uyghur Transitional Justice Database. The database gathered the information of close to 7,000 Uyghurs in concentration camps and submitted it to relevant countries and organizations. The WUC, Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), Campaign for Uyghurs, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, independent researchers, and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) published many reports on the concentration camps; major media outlets including BBC, CNN, Sky News, DW and Aljazeera produced documentaries about the concentration camps; Western researchers published video clips; and the European Parliament, the US Congress, Germany, and the British Parliament held many testimonial conferences hosting concentration camp witnesses. I testified in the US Congress, the European Parliament, and parliaments of other European countries. The testimonies of Uyghur and Kazakh concentration camp survivors attracted the attention of the international media and became evidence for some countries and parliaments to recognize the Uyghur genocide.
The majority of concentration camp survivors were married to foreign nationals or foreign citizens and thus were released after intervention from their spouses’ countries. Before their release, the Chinese government demanded they keep secret what they had seen and gone through in the camps when they left China. They were threatened that if they broke their promise, they would have to think about the safety of their relatives remaining in China. After they left China, these survivors stayed silent for some time. But ultimately, some couldn’t resist the call of their conscience and broke their silence to expose the reality of the camps. Omer Bekali, Mihrigul Tursun, Qelbinur Sidiq, Zumrat Dawut, Tursunay Ziyawudun, Sayragul Sauytbay, Gulbahar Jalilova, Gulzire Aulhan and Gulbahar Haitiwaji are some of these brave survivors who broke their silence, reported their experiences to international media, and testified before parliaments. The biography of Sayragul Sauytbay and Mihrigul Tursun were published in Germany. The biography of Gulbahar Haitiwaji was published in France. There are many other survivors living in different countries, however, that remain silent, afraid of the Chinese government’s threats and worried for their safety as well as the safety of their relatives back home.
In June 2019, 22 Western countries published a joint statement demanding the Chinese government close the camps and allow the UN Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation. Three additional countries joined later, making it 25 countries total. As a result, 50 countries sided with China in the UN and published a joint statement supporting China. One week later, Qatar withdrew from the statement. In October 2020, the number of countries condemning China reached 39. To counter this pressure, China started a campaign of diplomatic games and pressure in the UN. In September 2020, the number of countries supporting China was reduced to 45. In October 2021, 43 countries signed a joint statement condemning the human rights situation regarding Uyghurs. In June 2022, during the 50th Human Rights Council, the Netherlands delivered a joint statement on behalf of 47 countries. In June 2020, 50 Special Rapporteurs issued a statement condemning the human rights situation in China, and more specifically regarding the treatment of Uyghurs. Two years later, on June 10, 2022, 42 Special Procedures reiterated their call and urged the UN to enable credible international investigation.
In October 2019, the US passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. President Trump signed it. In December 2021, President Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act into law. Both acts had gained bipartisan support from the Republican and Democrat legislators in the US.
Five resolutions were passed by the European Parliament in October 2018, April 2019, December 2019, December 2020 and June 2022, regarding the Uyghur issue in Strasbourg.
The purpose of the Chinese Policies is to destroy families by locking up at least one member of the family in prison or a concentration camp. It is in this way that they dismantle family structures, and create the hellish lives in East Turkistan
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The issue of the concentration camps and human rights violations in East Turkistan have been debated many times in different national parliaments around the world. Currently, ten parliaments worldwide (US, Canada, UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Lithuania, Czechia, Ireland, and the EU) have adopted resolutions in which they recognized that the Chinese government’s actions constitute crimes against humanity and genocide or risk of genocide.
The United States government has officially recognized the Uyghur genocide.
On January 19, 2021, the US State Department announced that it designated China’s crimes against the Uyghurs as genocide and crimes against humanity.
(This is an edited excerpt from Dolkun Isa’s The China Freedom Trap)