‘India must speak up for Uyghurs and Tibetans’

Dolkun Isa at the National Press Club in Washington, March 7, 2018. RFA

DH News Service
MAR 11 2019, 22:02PM IST
UPDATED: MAR 12 2019, 00:20AM IST  

China has imprisoned over a million Uyghur Muslims in “re-education camps” in its Xinxiang Autonomous Region in what it calls its “fight against terrorism and religious extremism.” The World Uyghur Congress (WUC), based in Germany, says, however, that the “re-education camps” are just another tool for China to persecute Uyghurs and crush dissent against its repressive rule.

WUC president Dolkun Isa, who left Xinxiang for Turkey in 1994 to escape detention and is now a German citizen, still remains one of the “most wanted terrorists” for the Chinese government. In an interview with DH’s Anirban Bhaumik, Isa said China has been going soft on Pakistan on the issue of terrorism only to make sure that its Belt and Road Initiative goes on unhindered and warned India to be wary about building ties with China.


Can you tell us about the Uyghur people’s struggle against Chinese repression?

The Uyghur people have been living in East Turkistan for over 4,000 years, but in the last few centuries have faced regular invasions and occupation by Chinese forces. On two occasions in recent history, an independent East Turkistan Republic (ETR) has existed (in 1933 and 1944). But these independent republics were overthrown by military intervention and political meddling by the Soviet Union. In October 1949, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops marched into East Turkistan, effectively ending the ETR. This marked the start of the current era of repression of Uyghurs.

China says the Xinxiang detention camps are “vocational training centres” and part of its fight against “terrorism and religious extremism”.

China’s claim that the internment camps are “vocational training centres” aimed at fighting “terrorism” is completely without merit and is merely an attempt to avoid international criticism. This is evidenced even in the Chinese government’s own rhetoric. Before August 2018, the Chinese government routinely denied the very existence of the camps.

After the camps were highlighted in the review of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, China finally acknowledged that the camps existed, but said they were “vocational training centres.” When this was proven to be untrue and the camps gained global attention, Beijing’s narrative changed again to say the camps were a counter-terrorism measure.

China has routinely used the excuse of fighting terrorism to justify its persecution of Uyghurs and quash any form of peaceful dissent by Uyghurs. The so-called “re-education camps” are aimed at eroding the Uyghur ethnicity, socially re-engineering the Uyghur people and fostering loyalty to the Communist Party of China. It has nothing to do with counter-terrorism efforts. This is evidenced by the type of people who have disappeared into the camps. Uyghurs from all walks of life have been detained. Scholars, academics, athletes, musicians, comedians, atheists and religious people have all been detained in the camps.

Why do you think Beijing repeatedly blocks attempts at the UN to impose sanctions on terrorists based in its Pakistan, while claiming to be fighting terrorism at home?

China’s repressive policies towards the Uyghurs have nothing to do with terrorism or extremism, they are only convenient excuses for the Chinese government. China’s main concern with Pakistan is its role in the Belt and Road Initiative, which is the key to China’s future geopolitical and economic ambitions. We are now seeing a truly dystopian police state developing in China, which will serve as a model of oppression to authoritarian leaders and nations all over the world.

What is your view on India-China relations, which have thawed since the Doklam stand-off in 2017?

China’s relations with other countries are not based on common values or solidarity, but only on the economy and China’s national interests. While China is keen to assert that its relations with other states are ‘win-win’ and mutually beneficial, this is clearly not the case, as can be seen whenever a state’s interests diverge from that of China.

China routinely uses the concept of sovereignty to claim other states should not criticise its human rights record, but it regularly interferes in the domestic situations of other states. Across the world, China is using predatory loan practices to foster dependence of independent states on China. India must observe how China conducts itself with other states. India must be very wary about strengthening ties with China.

India must instead find its voice to speak up against violation of human rights of Uyghurs and Tibetans by the Chinese government. We have reached out to India in the UN and in other forums on a number of occasions, but India is still silent on the current situation of Uyghurs. We hope that this will change in the near future. India should stand with and continue to support Dalai Lama. Tibetans and Uyghurs are in a critical situation due to the repressive actions of the Chinese government.

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim-majority nations have not spoken up against repression of Uyghurs by China. Why?

The silence from most of the Muslim world on this issue has been very disappointing. So far, the only Muslim-majority states to publicly raise this issue have been Malaysia and Turkey. Leaders in other Muslim-majority nations have put Chinese money and investments over the lives and well-being of millions of innocent people. While the situation in East Turkistan is primarily about the Uyghur ethnic identity, religion forms a large component of that identity and has certainly been targeted by China.

It is virtually impossible for Uyghurs to practice Islam in East Turkistan now. Long beards, Islamic veils, Qurans and prayer mats have all been banned, yet most Muslim leaders have remained silent. It is shocking that one of the worst human rights crises in the world and one of the most serious instances of state persecution of Muslims could be ignored by the majority of Muslim-majority states.

DH News Service