Australia

Uighurs in Australia go public to pressure China to release family members

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With the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirming multiple requests to visit Xinjiang have been denied, twenty-nine-year-old Sadam is concerned he may never see his wife again – and never meet his son.

Two-year-old Lutifier is an Australian citizen – and he is one of the millions of Uighurs who cannot leave Xinjiang, along with his mother Nadila.

Lutifier's father Sadam, husband to Nadila, has never had the chance to meet him.

“As a dad, the reason I am living and breathing is because I have the hope I will see my wife and son,” he told SBS News.

“If it’s not going to happen, there’s no reason for me to live anymore.”

In February, Sadam concealed his identity when he spoke with SBS News, fearing for the safety of his family.

Sadam.
Sadam.
SBS News

Concerned he may never see his wife again – and never meet his son – the 29-year-old is speaking out publicly, with the support of his lawyer, Michael Bradley.

“The solution to this problem ultimately is simple – there’s a family stuck in another country – including a two-year-old Australian citizen,” Mr Bradley said.

“The solution is that they are brought here and that can be achieved with political will.”

Late Tuesday night, just hours after Sadam and his lawyer publicly called on Foreign Minister Marise Payne to take up the case, his wife was called into a police station in Urumqi. 

Sadam told SBS News Nadila was questioned and told to tell him to "stop speaking out".

She was then released from the station. 

Sadam has never met his son.
Sadam has never met his son.
Supplied to SBS News.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has confirmed to SBS News the frustrating timeline of attempting to get access to the north-western Chinese city.

The last diplomatic visit to Xinjiang was in June 2016 – since then the Australian Embassy in Beijing has submitted three requests for visits.

All of these have been denied.

The most recent request to visit Xinjiang in a diplomatic capacity was made on 14 February – almost one month later, the request was denied.

In December 2018, the former Australian Ambassador, Jan Adams, was among a group of ambassadors requesting a meeting with Party Secretary of Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo.

For many Uighurs abroad, the uncertainty of knowing whether their relatives have been detained or are simply unable to contact them is unbearable.

Sadam’s friend Almas is also in a similar situation – he has been unable to contact his wife and mother.

“I don’t even know if they are still alive, I don’t want to lose my mother and my wife,” he told SBS News.

“I don’t want to lose anything anymore I can’t handle it.”

Last week, Australia was among the 22 countries which signed a joint statement to the UN Human Rights Council – calling on China to stop detaining Uighurs.

Shortly after – a group of 37 countries – most with their own dubious human rights records – signed a letter, defending China’s policies.

The countries included: Angola, Philippines, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

As the plight of the Uighurs receives more international attention – companies and universities with links to Xinjiang are under scrutiny.

An investigation by ABC Four Corners revealed an academic at Curtin University has been researching facial scanning technology for the Chinese government to identify ethnic minorities.

The University of Technology Sydney is also under pressure, for its dealing with CETC, a Chinese corporation which developed an app used to track Uighurs.

In April, Human Rights Watch reverse-engineered the app – their research found the app was tracking when Uighurs were leaving their home, who they were socialising with, and even their electricity usage.

“CETC has confirmed they have not used research outputs from the partnership with UTS in any products or applications to date,” UTS said in a statement.

“UTS will consider future applications as part of its review. UTS at this stage has no plans for new work with CETC.”

The university started a review into the partnership in April – and Dr Graeme Thom from Amnesty International said accountability is an important part of understanding what is really happening in China’s north-west.

“We need to look at who is cooperating with the Chinese government on this, looking at universities and companies – we need to know who is complicit,” he said.

As for Sadam – he only wants his family back.

“My hope is simple, as a dad. I just want to see my son and wife.”

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