Interviewing Dolkun Isa, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and Asiye Abdulaheb

Does no-one have the guts to tackle China on the Uighurs?

On 24 November 2019, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) – along with 17 media partners from 14 countries around the world – published the "China Cables". In interview with World Uighur Congress president, Dolkun Isa, leading ICIJ journalist Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and whistleblower Asiye Abdulaheb, Sven Lilienstroem, founder of Faces of Democracy, asks what, if anything, has changed for the Uighurs since?

It is estimated that there are up to 20 million Uighurs worldwide – approximately half of them live in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, located in the northwest of China. What can you tell us about the daily lives of people there?

Dolkun Isa: The daily lives of the Uighur people still in East Turkestan – also known as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region – have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. Every aspect of Uighur lives have been affected by the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity. Almost every family has had someone disappear or be arbitrarily detained in the internment camps or other detention facilities. Over the past two decades the entire region has been turned into what is essentially an "open-air prison" and was called a "no rights zone" by members of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Uighurs live in constant fear of being taken to the camps or otherwise punished. Uighurs are not able to practice their religion, engage in Uighur cultural activities or even use their native language in schools and public spaces. The very existence of the Uighur people is under threat and the Uighur people inside and outside of East Turkestan are suffering incredibly due to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) repressive policies.

President of the World Uighur Congress Dolkun Isa was born in Uighur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, located in China's northwest. Wanted by Interpol for 21 years as a result of a "red notice" issued by China, Isa fled to Germany from the People's Republic in 1996 (photo: Dolkun Isa)
"The international community must stop believing the blatant lies of the Chinese government. It must take concrete action – including targeted sanctions and banning companies from using Uighur forced labour or from working with Chinese companies complicit in the repression of Uighurs. 'Business as usual' cannot be conducted with China while it is committing crimes against humanity and detaining millions of innocent people against their will"

At the end of 2019 the China Cables came as a shock to the international community. What has changed since then? How should Germany, the European Union and the international community now react?

Isa: Despite the fact that the China Cables, the Qaraqash List and other recently leaked documents have proved, beyond doubt, that crimes against humanity are being perpetrated against Uighurs in East Turkestan, not enough has changed. The European Union, Germany and the USA have been taking some action to address this issue and have raised the leaked documents at the United Nations and in bilateral discussions with China; but more substantial action is still needed. The camps remain open and the Chinese government is now coercing thousands of Uighurs into forced labour in facilities around the country. The European Union and Western states that have raised this crisis need to build a broader coalition including Muslim-majority, African, South American and Asian states, but China’s influence and investments have kept these states silent.

In response to the leaked documents, the Chinese government chose not to address the findings, but instead claimed the documents were false. The international community must stop believing the blatant lies of the Chinese government. It must take concrete action – including targeted sanctions and banning companies from using Uighur forced labour or from working with Chinese companies complicit in the repression of Uighurs. 'Business as usual' cannot be conducted with China while it is committing crimes against humanity and detaining millions of innocent people against their will.

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