“The Government Never Oppresses Us”: China’s proof-of-life videos as intimidation and a violation of Uyghur family unity

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February 1, 2021, 9:30 a.m. EST
For Immediate Release
Contact: Omer Kanat +1 (202) 790-1795, Peter Irwin +1 (646) 906-7722

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has released a new report examining Chinese state-produced proof-of-life-style videos of Uyghur individuals and families in East Turkistan.

In “The Government Never Oppresses Us”: China’s proof-of-life videos as intimidation and a violation of Uyghur family unity, UHRP identifies and analyzes observable patterns in state-produced portrayals of missing Uyghurs. The scripts deny any problems or suffering, and many go on to criticize those who have raised their voices demanding information and freedom for their incommunicado Uyghur relatives. 

“Coerced proof-of-life videos inflict further anguish on Uyghur families abroad. It is clear the people in the videos are forced to participate under threat of further punishment and brutality. Countless Uyghurs overseas cannot contact our loved ones in East Turkistan,” said UHRP Executive Director, Omer Kanat. “These scripts are absurd.” 

The videos are part of a Chinese state media counter-narrative, responding to campaigns by Uyghurs overseas demanding freedom for their missing relatives. In addition, some video scripts also contain specific denials of documented atrocity crimes against Uyghurs, such as forced labor, breakup of families, and religious persecution. 

The staged videos also serve as a tool of misinformation, intimidation, and fear directed at the overseas Uyghur community. They remind overseas Uyghurs that their loved ones are subject to totalizing control, pressuring them not to continue speaking publicly.

In 2021, the Chinese government appears to be doubling down on its strategy of coercing Uyghurs to make videos claiming they are not oppressed. Materials shared by AP reporter Dake Kang show instructions sent to Xinjiang government workers, telling them to find Uyghurs in their workplaces and record short video clips denouncing the January 19 U.S. genocide determination.

Orchestrated videos are not valid proof of Uyghur freedom but instead further proof of Chinese state culpability for atrocity crimes. Relatives of the victims featured in the scripted clips are still not able to freely contact any of their family members, neighbors, and classmates. 

“The Chinese state is tearing Uyghur families apart,” Kanat continued in a statement. “Our relatives have disappeared or been taken away to concentration camps and long prison terms. Our nieces and nephews are taken away to prison-like state orphanages and boarding schools. Officials punish people who express their Uyghur identity through our language, culture and religion.”  

“This research exposes the Chinese government’s staged responses to Uyghurs outspoken about their missing family members. In what world is it acceptable that communication between a parent and child is mediated through a state-produced proof-of-life video?” added Kanat.   

Title draws from interviews and media, academic, and NGO reports to analyze the themes, impacts, and implications of Chinese state proof-of-life videos. 

UHRP calls on the CCP to free all victims of mass detention, and make public and transparent its records on the treatment and whereabouts of all victims of its genocidal policies, including Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other peoples who are being held in detention centers, internment camps, prisons, forced-labor settings, or house arrest. 

“Denial of private and unfettered contact between family members is a denial of basic humanity and an integral part of its genocidal policies. We urge governments and global human rights bodies to demand an end to the genocide, and accountability and restitution for these crimes.” said UHRP’s Omer Kanat.

Read the full report: “The Government Never Oppresses Us”: China’s proof-of-life videos as intimidation and a violation of Uyghur family unity.

Related reports:

UHRP BRIEFING: Uyghurs to China: “Return our relatives’ passports”

UHRP EXPLAINER: Uyghur activists ask world to #HearUyghurs

UHRP REPORT: “The Happiest Muslims in the World”: Disinformation, Propaganda, and the Uyghur Crisis

UHRP REPORT: “Ideological Transformation”: Records of Mass Detention from Qaraqash, Hotan 

Compelled Silence and Compelled Sound in the Uyghur Genocide (Georgetown Journal of International Affairs)