Asia-Pacific

Relatives of detained Uighurs demand 'proof of life' in social media campaign

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A video released by the Chinese government aimed at appeasing Uighur activists has done the opposite - and instead, started a global campaign with people demanding proof of their loved ones' wellbeing.

When the Chinese government released a video of a prominent Uighur musician this week, the intention was simply to prove that he was alive and healthy. But the move has had the opposite effect among the exiled Uighur community.

The video, purporting to show folk singer Abdurehim Heyit alive and well, was released by the Chinese government  in response to the Turkish Foreign Ministry's claims he had died in an an internment camp in Xinjiang, in China's northwest.

"I saw the video online, it shows that he is not only alive, but he's also very healthy," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told the media on Sunday.

But far from appeasing concerns, the video has sparked a global campaign called 'Me Too Uighur', encouraging people to demand video evidence from the Chinese government that their Uighur relatives are alive.

Halmurat Harri, a Uighur activist who lives in Finland, started the campaign.

"If Chinese authorities have released videos of Mr Heit, there are possibilities to communicate with authorities in different ways, and give hope to my fellow Uighurs," he told SBS News on Wednesday.

"The world needs to realise, this is not an ethnic issue, or just a racial issue, it is a tragedy for all humans."

He is encouraging all Uighurs - and relatives of other persecuted minority groups in China - to post pictures of loved ones who they are unable to contact, and are suspected to be held in camps.

Sydney-woman Fatimah Abdulghafur told SBS News she has not heard from her mother, father, and siblings for almost three years.

Sydney-woman Fatimah Abdulghafur has not heard from her mother, father, and siblings for almost three years.
Sydney-woman Fatimah Abdulghafur has not heard from her mother, father, and siblings for almost three years.

"My brother and father were taken to the camps, my sister and mother are under house arrest," she said.

"I don't know what happened to them, it makes me sad and helpless...and hopeless."

Canberra-based activist Nurgal Sawut also has family detained in the camps, and is advocating for the release of detainees with Australian residency.

"It is our time to speak up, we cannot wait for more deaths, and more sad news coming out of the camps," she told SBS News.

Prominent Uighur activist Dr Rushan Abbas, who is the director of the campaign for Uighurs in the US, told SBS News she still does not know what happened to her sister.

"I need to know if she is alive or not."

The Chinese government has claimed the camps are vocational training schools - but Dr Abbas said her sister is a qualified medical doctor, and would have no need for this.

Uighur activist Dr Rushan Abbas.
Uighur activist Dr Rushan Abbas.
SBS News

"We need to keep talking about what is happening because we are all in this together," she said.

"When we speak about this, it is not just Uighurs, but also Kazakhs and other groups too."

Some of the Uighurs believed to be held in detention are considered prominent writers, musicians and artists - including comedian and entertainer Adil Mijit.

His son-in-law Arslan Hidayat said that if the Chinese government is prepared to post a so-called "proof of life" video for Mr Heyit, they should also do it for all Uighur families.

"We would also like a similar proof of life video for Adil Mijit, for him and for others who have been locked up," he said on Twitter.

In response to the social media campaign the Chinese Foreign Ministry said China has more than a billion people, and cannot release videos of everyone.

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